Category: Hiking Trails

Green Mountain Trail

I hiked the Green Mountain Trail in the Elgin Valley near Cape Town from 18th March to 22nd March 2013. The highlights of the trail are:

  • 4 hiking days
  • 57kms
  • 1,200m height gain over the 4 days
  • 60% on jeep track
  • 50% on or near cultivated land: 50% in nature
  • 40% on private land
  • 2 guest houses
  • 5 wine tastings

This is a well organised, luxurious trail with relatively long distances over easy terrain. There is a wide diversity of flora and many birds close to cultivated land.

The group comprised nine of us with most of the party in their sixties:

Bill and Pat are Britons who have been expatriates for most of their working life and are now swallows between Cape Town and the south of France.

Jane is a Briton who has lived in many places in the world and has now settled in Cape Town.

Judy is an American who has lived in many places in the world and has now settled in Cape Town.

Bill, Pat, Jane and Judy have known each other for many years. Through her sister Judy knows

Peter and Susan who are widely travelled Americans living in Vermont.

Eberhard and Gabi are Germans who have been expatriates with Siemens for much of their working lives and are now swallows between Swellendam, South Africa and northern Bavaria in Germany.

Mike Wakeford is an experienced mountain guide and was our lead guide for the four days. The trail normally has different lead guides on the first two days from the last two days but on this occasion we were lucky to have Mike leading us all the way. He was the perfect guide – confident, sensitive, caring, low key with good knowledge of the flora, birds, geography and history. He was supported by Christopher for the first two days and John on the latter two days.  Warren, a potential stand in for Mike when he leads trips to India, accompanied us for the first two days.

Green Mountain Trail Map

Hiking day 1 is 18kms long with a height gain of about 500m and took us about six hours with another hour for lunch. Broadly speaking it is a gentle 9kms hike up jeep track and then a gentle 9kms decline. The hike starts on private land on the Twaalfontein Farm near the Theewaterskloof Dam and ascends the Groenlandberg to a point near the peak where we overlooked the Elgin Valley. The jeep track allowed Cha from Porcupine Hills to bring us a delightful lunch. The hike was in the core of the Kogelberg Conservancy managed by Cape Nature and ended on the R321 at the entrance to the Cape Nature Boland Hiking Trail. This is the hardest day, principally because of the distance. We were taken back to the guest house in a mini coach which was used whenever we needed to be transported.

Day 2 is 15kms long with a minimal height gain and took us about six hours with another hour for lunch and an hour for a wine tasting at the end of the day. We started on the R321 about 2kms from our end point on the previous day, closer to Grabouw. We hiked in the Elgin Valley on the slopes of the Groenlandberg which we had ascended the previous day. For most of the day we were hiking through private land in the fynbos just above the cultivated lands of three farms. Although the distance was less than yesterday it took us the same time because the route today was mainly on paths which were slower going than the jeep track of yesterday. This was an attractive route although one was always aware of the cultivated land close by. We passed through the Molteno Brother’s farm and then on to the Oak Valley Farm where Alison Green from Wildekrans Country House brought us a delightful lunch. Many of the party opted out at lunch and left with Alison. The hardy remainder then had a hot hike on to the Paul Kluwer farm and then on his farm roads through his crops and vineyards to the main farm buildings where we had a wine tasting.

Day 3 is 13kms long with a minimal height gain and took us about four hours. We started, where we had finished yesterday, at the Paul Kluwer farm and walked through his farm past the performance area and then past workers bringing in the apple harvest. Our route took us on to a forestry area that had not been maintained and was not very attractive. We finished by walking through the wilder parts of another farm before arriving at Wildekrans Country House for a swim before an alfresco lunch. This was the least attractive day because we were walking mainly on jeep tracks and mainly through cultivated land or failed forests.

Day 4 is 11kms long with about 450m height gain and took us about four hours. This was the best of the hiking days. We left Wildekrans Country House in Houwhoek and initially followed the old wagon trail towards Botriver and then turned on to a path that took us into the mountains. We were conceptually following the route of the N2 and could often hear the traffic, but this was the wildest part of the four day trail and I loved it. We eventually descended to the west of Botriver and arrived at Beaumont Wines. We were met by the owner, Jane Beaumont, who took us into her home, where we changed for a swim in the dam in front of her house before enjoying a wonderful lunch on her veranda. A wonderful way to finish the trail. The coach had picked up our luggage from Wildekrans Country House and then took us back to Porcupine Hills where we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

We had five wine tastings en route. We tasted Winters Drift wines from the Molteno Brothers on the first evening at Porcupine Hills. Alison let us taste Oak Valley wines at the lunch she brought us on the second day of hiking when sat in the shade and looked over the Oak Valley vineyards. A few hours later we had a wonderful tasting of Paul Kluwer wines which were accompanied by gorgeous cheeses. On the last night at Wildekrans, before dinner, we tasted XXX wines and the next day over a fantastic lunch at Beaumont we tasted their wines. Because of the terroir of this area the wines are principally white, with the occasional pinot noir and very few reds.

We stayed the first two nights at Porcupine Hills Guest House and the last two nights at Wildekrans Country House which were both very comfortable with great food.

This is a fun, interesting walk.

Hoerikwaggo Hiking Trail

I hiked the five day 72kms Hoerikwaggo Trail from The Upper Cable Car Station on Table Mountain in Cape Town to Cape Point in September 2010. Hoerikwaggo is the indigenous Khoekhoen word for Table Mountain, meaning “mountains in the sea”. This is an amazing wild hike in the middle of urban Cape Town. Some of the hiking is very tiring but one has the luxury of having one’s luggage transported and staying in four beautiful comfortable camps. This description focuses on the hiking first and then describes the camps.

There is a gap in the trail. The area that the trail goes through is managed by Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) which is a part of South African National Parks. There is a section between Redhill and Smitswinkel Camp (about 15kms by a circular road) where the way is blocked by private land with no path and a later section where right of way for hikers is not clear. At the moment one has to travel this section by vehicle. The map shows a place designated for the fifth camp about a kilometre from the Redhill Road but it is unclear when this will be ready.

Direction of travel

The first issue that one needs to address is whether to hike from Cape Point or from the Upper Cable Car Station. The website of South African National Parks encourages people to hike from Cape Point. I don’t understand why they do that. The Upper Cable Car Station is 900m higher than the lower lighthouse at Cape Point so hiking from Cape Point results in a net height gain over the trail of that height. I normally find it easier to hike down than up. Secondly, and probably more importantly, the third day between Silvermine and Kommetjie is a tough day. To hike it in the opposite direction with two hours hiking on the beach before the 600m ascent of Chapman’s Peak, the 250m drop into the saddle and then a further 350m ascent to the shoulder of Noordhoek Peak is very tough; and unnecessary if one hikes in the other direction. So this description describes hiking from the Upper Cable Car Station to Cape Point.

Trail directions and maps

Until May 2010 TMNP required hikers to hire their trail guides if they booked accommodation in the tented camps. I suspect, for that reason, they did not issue a detailed description of the route. They have now dropped the requirement to hire a guide but continue to be tight mouthed about the route. Their view is that the route is laid out on Slingsby maps. I called Slingsby and confirmed that their latest maps for the route are:

Table Mountain Version 10.1

Silvermine and Hout Bay v3.1

Cape Point v3.1

The Hoerikwaggo Trail is clear on the Table Mountain map (although the guides took Fiona McIntosh, the author of ‘Top 12 Hiking Trails of the Western Cape’, past Woodhead Dam and the Valley of the Red Gods which is not the route on the map.) On the Silvermine and Hout Bay map the Trail is clear except for the big distance from in front of Constantiaberg through to Chapman’s Neck. There are two references to a Silvermine-Orange Kloof Trail which might be intended to be the same but I believe that that reference in front of Constantiaberg to be wrong as it makes no sense to take the lower path when the higher path is more direct (also confirmed by an ex-Hoerikwaggo guide). On the Cape Point map there are no references at all to the Hoerikwaggo Trail and a path clearly intended to be part of the Trail, from the reservoir near the Witsand Road to just before Kleinplaas Dam, is not on the map at all. That point notwithstanding I believe that the Slingsby maps are the most accurate record of the existing paths on the mountain. I met one group who were hiking the Trail using the Map Studio Table Mountain & Cape Peninsula Map 1st Edition which does not show many paths on the Trail. Based on that map this group was going to walk several kilometres further than they needed to. A map is essential because the Trail is not marked on the ground.

(The cartographer, Peter Slingsby, has read this article and has provided insight into a number of issues. TMNP specifically asked him not to mark the Hoerikwaggo Trail in the latest version of the Cape Point map because at that stage the Smitswinkel Camp had not been completed and they also said that the route had not been finalised. They were also reluctant for him to mark the full Hoerikwaggo Trail on the other maps (in my view because at that stage they were still requiring hikers to use guides) and thus earlier official TMNP trails like the False Bay Scenic Route and the Silvermine-Orange Kloof Trail remain on the maps. Peter says that TMNP believed that the lower path in front of Constantiaberg of the Silvermine-Orange Kloof Trail was safer than the higher path and thus they marked the lower path as the official one. (I concede that point although I do not consider the higher path to be unsafe and the TMNP guides clearly have the same view.) Peter Slingsby does not check every part of the ground when publishing new versions of his maps. He asked TMNP to check his Cape Point map and, despite them spending a lot of money and time creating the new path from the reservoir near the Witsand Road to just before Kleinplaas Dam, they did not tell him about it.)

Upper Cable Car Station (1067m above sea level) to Orange Kloof Camp (100m)

10kms (although I probably walked further) and 967m net height loss

13h30 to 18h00 = 4.5 hours

The Trail started with an easy 45 minute walk to Maclear’s Beacon on the Eastern Table which is the highest point on the Mountain but only 17m higher than Cable Car Station. One can start the harder way and, rather than catch the cable car, one can walk up Platteklip Gorge. You must be very keen to do that! There are beautiful views across the City and Table Bay.

The route then turns south west on to the Smuts Track (named after the late South African Prime Minister who used to walk this way) and descends about 100m in a distance of about 700m.

At this point I made a mistake and unknowingly turned off the Smuts Track and took the path heading due west past Waaikoppie towards Echo Valley. I was completely entranced. This was an exceptionally beautiful route. I was walking along a contour, mainly on a boardwalk, surrounded by magnificent flora. Quite a lot of water was flowing off the mountain under the board walk.

When I realised that I was on the wrong path I turned south west at the next junction, near St Michael, and went over the ridge and descended a further 150m overlooking Hely-Hutchinson and Woodhead Dams with distant views of Hout Bay beyond. This was another exceptionally attractive path.

There was one place where I needed to hold on to a chain to cross a rock on the path.

I crossed the Woodhead Dam wall and picked up the jeep track, meeting the Trail again near the Overseer’s Cottage and the tap (important on a hot dry day).

From there it was a steep descent of about 500m over about 2.5kms distance to Constantia Neck. Some hikers will find this descent will hurt their knees.

The views were now of the Cape Town Southern Suburbs and False Bay.

It was then an easy one kilometre walk through Orange Kloof to the camp.

The day was blue with a steady wind. The wind was cold on top of Table Mountain and as I descended from the Overseer’s Cottage in the shade. There had been heavy rain in two of the previous four days so there was a lot of ground water on the path and in streams. The paths were in a good condition (except for a few hundred metres before Constantia Neck) and the walking was easy. My walk along the jeep track was longer but easier than the actual Trail (I have hiked most of the distance, which I missed today, before.) This is a relatively easy hiking day. If you are troubled by this hike then you will find the next two days very difficult.

If one hikes the Trail in the opposite direction it will be a lot tougher because of the 967m net height gain.

Orange Kloof Camp (100m above sea level) to Silvermine Camp (450m)

15kms and 350m net height gain

09h00 to 16h00 = 7 hours

The day started with an easy one kilometre hike back up to Constantia Neck. It is then easy to lose the path. One needs to walk down the road towards Hout Bay for about 200m to a locked vehicle gate on the left hand side. There is a sign inside the gate advising that TMNP had acquired a sliver of land from the Silvermine Estate to facilitate access to Vlakkenberg. It is not clear, but the Hoerikwaggo Trail actually follows this route. There is a pedestrian access to the right of gate. Shortly afterwards there is a sign on the left that indicates the route to Vlakkenberg, once again without reference to Hoerikwaggo. Take this relatively unattractive access route (which becomes very steep), about 20m wide between two fences, for about a kilometre until one is on the mountain above private properties. The path then climbs constantly but easily up the flanks of Vlakkenberg to Vlakkenberg Nek.

The path is to the right of the road (middle left), ascends above the trees and goes over Vlakkenberg Nek (top right)

At this stage I had climbed about 450m since leaving Orange Kloof Camp. I had beautiful views of Orange Kloof, Table Mountain Back Table and down to Hout Bay and then as I went over the neck views opened up to False Bay.

One of the joys of walking in these mountains is that in a short time one can get views of completely different coastlines and areas of the Peninsula. In the next kilometre the path dropped about 100m into a valley and then the same amount up on to the flanks of Elephant’s Knee.

I stopped for a snack, three hours after leaving, near Picnic Rock and had a lovely view of Hout Bay.

For the next two hours I followed the path that was largely a contour path around Constantiaberg. It descended slowly for about 150m and then started ascending slowly. Many small streams tumbled down the mountain and over the path. Throughout the path was in a good condition. In many places the going had been improved by the laying of rocks. I was grateful for the good path because the mountainside above and below the path was very steep.

I could see Chapman’s Peak Drive far below me and a path that had a junction with mine descending very steeply to the Toll Plaza area.

There was then a 100m steep ascent zig zagging up the path that starts in Blackburn Kloof to the wooden lookout point 600m above the sea level far below.

After a snack and chat with other hikers I followed the easy 150m descent over about three kilometres, past the Silvermine Dam, to the tented camp near the mountain bikers’ car park. The weather had been mild and dry all day with a light breeze. There were plenty of sources of water on the trail. I had met about five groups of hikers during the day to the Blackburn Lookout and seen others on lower paths and several groups in Silvermine. I arrived tired and happy.

This route will be easier in the other direction because one will descend Blackburn Ravine and also descend the 450m from Vlakkenberg Neck to Orange Kloof Camp.

Silvermine Camp (450m) to Slangkop Camp near Kommetjie Lighthouse (sea level)

21kms and 450m net height loss

08h00 to 16h00 = 8 hours

This was the toughest day of the Trail because it was long and had a lot of ups and downs. It broke down something like this:

From the camp, via the dam wall, 250m height gain up the jeep track to the shoulder of Noordhoek Peak – 1 hour

View from Noordhoek shoulder past Chapman's Peak across Noordhoek Beach to Kommetjie

A descent of 350m to the neck between Noordhoek and Chapman’s Peak – 1 hour

Chapman's Peak Drive on the left; Constantiaberg with the transmitter pole and Noordhoek Peak on the right

An ascent of 250m from the neck to Chapman’s Peak – 1hour 15 minutes

View from Chapman's Peak across Noordhoek Town and Fishhoek towards Simonstown

Lunch break on the peak – 30 minutes

Descent of 600m from Chapman’s Peak to Noordhoek Beach – 1 hour 45 minutes

Walk the length of Noordhoek Beach – 1 hour

View from Noordhoek Beach to Chapman's Peak and Noordhoek Peak

Tea break – 30 minutes

Kommetjie beach round to lighthouse and Slangkop Camp – 1 hour

On the mountain the route was very rocky but well marked. The going on the wet sand on the beach was relatively easy except that the tide was coming in so every few minutes I was running from an incoming wave. The day was sunny but not very hot and windy in exposed places. THERE WAS NO WATER ON THE TRAIL ALL DAY! I only met two groups on the mountain. It was Saturday and there were lots of people on Noordhoek Beach and even more on Kommetjie Beach and fifty on surfboards in the sea at Kommetjie. I loved looking down far below me to Chapman’s Peak Drive and the beautiful sea. The views of both coastlines of the Peninsula from the mountain were magnificent as was the view of and along the beach. I had to cross a stream at the end of Noordhoek Beach and avoided taking my boots off because the water looked green and polluted.

I had asked Mxolisi, the camp host at Orange Kloof and Silvermine, which was the best camp and he said Slangkop. When I asked him why he said it was because it was close to a shop. In my unfair and highhanded way I decided that his basis for judging a camp was different from mine. Well by the time I got to Kommetjie I was in complete agreement with him and succumbed to the pleasures that Kommetjie Village could offer on a Saturday afternoon and stopped for a cold Amstel beer and a boerewors roll!

TMNP encourages hikers to walk the trail in the other direction. In my view that is just plain silly for this day. After walking a long distance on the beach one then has to first ascend 600m up Chapman’s peak and then another 350m up to the shoulder (not the peak) of Noordhoek Peak. One exhausted group that I met half way up Chapman’s Peak had taken five hours to that point from Kommetjie. I am sure that it took them another five hours to Silvermine Camp.

Slangkop Camp near Kommetjie Lighthouse (sea level) to Redhill Road (250m)

12kms and 250m net height gain

11h00 to 15h00 = 4 hours

This was the easiest of all the days. The initial 150m climb up the 7 zigzags was relatively easy because the zigzags were fairly long.

I hiked today with Dave Wolfaardt whom I met on the Oorlogs Trail. The rest of the hike was spent on the plateau gently moving no lower than 100m above sea level and no higher than 280m. The path was easy to walk on.

The vegetation was attractive fynbos. The day was sunny, about 22°C with a cool breeze. We saw lots of birds and a small tortoise.

The walk was delightful. When I first looked at the map I was disappointed that the only route marked would take us to the outskirts of the residential area of Ocean View. HOWEVER, TMNP HAS CREATED A NEW PATH WHICH IS NOT ON THE LATEST SLINGSBY MAP FOR CAPE POINT, SIMONSTOWN AND KOMMETJIE VERSION 3.1! After crossing the Witsand Road and passing the reservoir, at the point that the marked path turns towards Ocean View, the new path begins. We decided that it was the official route because someone had gone to some trouble to lay the way with rocks. This unmarked path stays south of the Bokramspruit for about 2kms before crossing it and joining the marked path on the other side of the Spruit just before the ridge.

(Hiking the other way it is not so obvious that one should take this path and many people must walk down into Ocean View.) It took us about 2.5 hours from the start to the Kleinplaas Dam wall where we stopped for tea for 30 minutes.

It was then an easy one hour walk to the junction of Redhill Road and Klawervlei Road and the end of the trail for the day.

In that last hour we had many lovely views of False Bay.

There was also a very different view of Table Mountain in the distance.

It was school holidays and there were a lot of people near the dam. Most of them took the shorter route up the jeep track from Brooklands. Drinking water was available from Bokramspruit and the dam.

The route in the other direction will be marginally easier.

The Slingsby map shows the site of the proposed fifth camp for the Hoerikwaggo Trail to be about one kilometre from the junction down Klawervlei Road, near the grave of the Navy mascot dog, Just Nuisance. It is not clear when this will be ready.

Smitswinkel Camp (150m) to Buffelsfontein Visitors’ centre (40m)

8kms and 90m net height loss

09h00 to 12h30 = 3.5 hours

I hiked this part of the Trail with five other members of the Meridian Hiking Club led by Dolores Donovan. The Camp is 400m from the entrance gate of the Cape Point Reserve and it is another 600m on the road to a parking place on the left. On the map the walk thereafter is described as being the False Bay Scenic Walk which it certainly was. It stayed above the sea cliffs and provided a wonderful view across the Bay.

It skirted the peak of Paulsberg but went over Kanonkop and reached a height of 230m.

The path was generally rocky but was otherwise sandy and easy walking.

The route turned westwards, away from the sea, and then headed south again through vegetation to the Buffelsfontein Visitors’ Centre. There were a few sources of water. The clouds were moving fast and most of the time was overcast. We walked in light rain for about twenty minutes. While drinking coffee at the Visitors’ Centre the heavens opened and rain poured down. After about an hour of rain we abandoned the walk. This was a relatively easy walk. The hike in the other direction will probably be no more or less difficult.

Buffelsfontein Visitors’ Centre (40m) to Cape Point (140m)

6kms and 100m net height gain

12h00 to 15h00 = 3 hours

I returned on another day with Tibby and our friends, Bev and Bernard, to do the last leg. Soon after leaving the Visitors’ Centre we saw three bontebok and a calf. The path dipped gently into the valley and up the other side with views up and down the coast. It was comfortable walking with a good path and beautiful flowers.

We crossed the Meadows and began walking along the top of the cliffs with an 80m drop down to the aquamarine sea. This was a spectacular part of the walk.

The path then turned inland up towards the Protea and Restio Overnight Trail Huts on Vasco da Gama Peak. There was a steady 200m ascent over a neck and almost to the top of Vasco da Gama Peak from where we looked down on Cape Point.

The descent was down a rocky ridge keeping us surrounded by bushes until the last moment when we arrived at the Cape Point car park.

This could be the end of the Trail but perfectionists will want to do the last ascent to the upper lighthouse and the walk round to the viewpoint over the lower lighthouse.

This was a delightful way to finish the Trail. There was only one small stream for water. The weather was blue and warm with a cooling breeze. This was a relatively easy walk. The hike in the other direction will probably be no more or less difficult.

Trail summary

From To Kms Hours Height Comment
Cable Car Orange Kloof 10 4.5 -967 Relatively easy but tough on knees
Orange Kloof Silvermine 15 7 +350 Tiring
Silvermine Kommetjie 21 8 -450 Hardest day and tough on the knees
Kommetjie Redhill 12 4 +250 Easiest day
Redhill Smitswinkel Transfer by car
Smitswinkel Cape Point 14 6.5 +10 Easy and lovely finish
Total of Trail 72 30 -807 Wonderful experience

Tented Camps

There are currently four tented camps along the route. They each accommodate twelve people overnight. They were intended for sole use by Hoerikwaggo hikers but the take up has not been high so anyone can now book a tent in the camps and can drive up to each camp. The principle behind the building of the camps was to touch the earth lightly and so they have been built adjacent to places where other buildings or activities were in place and have been built almost entirely from wood. The camps have been built with great care and thoughtful design and are very attractive and rustic. Each camp has a different feel and all are wonderful. Each camp has a large communal kitchen dining room which is fully equipped with gas cooking rings, a fridge/freezer, crockery, cutlery, glasses, pots and pans and braai grids and utensils. They also have wood stoves to produce heat in the winter. There are outside braai areas at all the camps with the one at Slangkop being principally enclosed.

Slangkop

At Smitswinkel there is also a large indoor fireplace where a braai could happen on a wet day. There are lovely views of mountain or sea from these communal areas with imaginative sliding doors and windows permitting the outside to come in on hot days.

Orange Kloof

There is plenty of internal and external seating. Wooden boardwalks connect all parts of each camp. The tents are a good size and accommodate two full size single beds in each except for Orange Kloof and Silvermine where there are only five tents with one in each camp accommodating four beds. The bottom end of each tent opens up to provide a small wooden porch and a view

Slangkop

The tents are all encased in hard corrugated plastic and wooden poles so one is protected from the elements in the tents; and yet they look attractive.

Orange Kloof

At Orange Kloof, Silvermine and Slangkop there are two toilets and two shower cubicles in attractive small buildings which also have basins.

Orange Kloof

At Smitswinkel there are en-suite shower rooms with a toilet off each tent. There are conventional flush toilets at all the camps except Silvermine where a curious dry conveyer belt system is used. There is hot water available in the kitchen, showers and bathroom basins at all times. There is electricity in all the camps except Silvermine where the communal lights work off solar power and gas, the fridge is powered by gas and one is given battery powered lamps for the tents. There are mattress protectors on all beds and most people use their own sleeping bags but one can, by prior arrangement and payment, be provided with very comfortable bedding.  Firewood can be purchased from the camp caretaker at Slangkop and Smitswinkel. There appears to be wood left over from the building of the other two camps, which is available for free at those camps. I assume that at some point this free wood will run out and one will have to pay for wood. Whenever the camps are occupied there will be a TMNP caretaker at the camp who will ensure that everything is working, beds are made and your luggage is received and dispatched (if you have paid for the transport of your luggage). All these camps are sheer luxury on a hiking trail but can also be lovely venues for a gathering of friends or family.

Orange Kloof Camp

This camp is in the closed area of Orange Kloof about one kilometre from Constantia Neck on the Hout Bay side. As the Trail runs through Constantia Neck one has to return there in the morning.  The camp is in a clearing in the forest and has wonderful views of the Back Table.

Besides the attractive braai area there is also a deck outside the kitchen and a further raised platform with benches to better enjoy the views of the mountain. Road access is 1.2kms down the Hout Bay road from Constantia Neck, on a gravel road between some houses, through a gate (that might be locked) and a further kilometre into the forest (past other forestry houses) along a road that might be slow going for a car with low clearance.

Silvermine Camp

This camp is just before the mountain bikers’ car park about half a kilometre from the dam. It has mountains on three sides and a long view down the valley towards False Bay. The braai area is under the shade of a tree which made it too cold in September; but I am sure it will be wonderful on a hot summer’s day.

Road access is from a jeep track just above the mountain bikers’ car park. The camp is in the Silvermine Reserve so if one is driving one needs to arrive before 18h00 and leave before 19h00. An entrance fee is payable if you arrive by car.

Slangkop Camp

This camp is about 100m before the Slangkop Lighthouse at Kommetjie and about 50m, through the dunes, from the sea. It has views of both the sea and the lighthouse. The great attraction of this camp is its proximity to the sea and the beach. That proximity also means that the camp is more exposed to wind and bad weather which probably explains why the braai area is substantially enclosed.

This is the only camp close to a shop. The camp is adjacent to a residential part of Kommetjie, although one is not aware of that when in the camp. Road access is off Lighthouse Road.

Smitswinkel Camp

Despite its name this camp is not in the bay but up on the mountain, above the M65 Plateau Road and behind Smitswinkel Forestry Station. The communal area and the tents have all been positioned with views up to the Swartkop Mountains.

The special thing about this camp is that each tent is bigger than at the other camps, with an en-suite shower room and toilet and is enclosed on three sides to provide a large private porch and sitting area and a cooking ring, fridge and crockery for the preparation of simple meals.

One cannot braai at the tents but must use the braai in the communal area. The camp is adjacent to the forestry station where people are living although one is not aware of them when in the camp.  Access is off the M65 about 150m before the road junction for the road to the Cape Point Reserve. If the gate designated for the tented camp is locked the road through the gate to the right goes through the forestry station and ends at the camp.

Transport of luggage

TMNP offers a service of transporting your luggage between camps and from the start point and to the end point. There is a charge for the service. There appears to be no limit on how much one can have transported and so one can take along plenty of clothing, food, drink and firewood. They are also happy to move food from your cooler box to the fridge at the camp. From my perspective the service worked well. They collected my luggage from me at an arranged time at The Lower Cable Car Station. Each day I left my luggage in camp and it was waiting for me on my arrival at the next camp. The great joy of this service is that it frees one to hike with a small day pack. The one practical difficulty one might have is to arrange transport of oneself between Redhill and Smitswinkel and to the start and from the end. By arrangement you can leave a car at any of the camps. I would be wary of leaving a car too long at the car park on the Redhill Road although mine was fine after five hours.

Assessment

This is a beautiful trail on big mountains through lovely scenery with amazing views of mountain, sea and city. For people who hike regularly and are fit this trail is quite manageable even though some of the days are long and some of the ascents tiring. If you are in any doubt about your ability to do the trail try doing the legs from Kommetjie to Redhill and from Smitswinkel to Cape Point first. If you are comfortable with those then do the other days.

If you have done some hiking in these mountains and can read a map you do not need a guide. If you use Slingsby maps the location of the camps is marked and the route between is relatively obvious (except for the path from the reservoir near the Witsand Road to just before Kleinplaas Dam, which is not on the map). The paths are generally clear and if they are not, you are probably on the wrong one. Do not get too complacent as it is easy to take the wrong path as I did on Table Mountain. Ensure that you always carry water, a fleece, a rain jacket, a hat, sun protection and basic provisions as the conditions can change quickly. Because the route is generally close to urban areas there is normally mobile phone coverage so take your mobile phone with you and save the Table Mountain Rescue number of 021 948 9900 on your phone. When near to roads be watchful of anyone who might mug you and take your valuables. I have never had a mugging related incident but there are press reports of them happening.

TMNP has done a wonderful job in designing and building the Trail. Most of the paths were already there but they have packed them with stones and added many wooden steps and boardwalks. I feel that they should publish the detailed route and should establish some simple signage en route. They have designed and built four magnificent camps which are a joy to stay in. TMNP has, however, completely failed in the marketing of this trail. Their website is difficult to find, confusing, incomplete and out of date. They only have themselves to blame for the poor level of bookings. It is a disgrace that on a long weekend in September I was the only person in camp on three of my four nights. Given the low level of bookings I am fearful that TMNP will not complete the Trail and purchase the necessary land between Redhill and Smitswinkel and build the Redhill camp. It will be sad if this trail is left incomplete like the motorway at the end of Eastern Boulevard and the N2 in Cape Town.

The paths on this trail are hiked on more by day hikers than people doing the trail. For many hikers, parts of this trail are familiar to them and the Trail and the camps are too close to home to be considered worthwhile hiking as a separate Trail. I respect that view but found that hiking the Trail put a lot of the area into perspective for me. For any hiker who does not know these mountains this is a very special trail. Even if you are not a hiker consider spending one or more nights at the wonderful camps.

Bookings

There is no need to book to actually hike along this trail. It is on public land and anyone can hike along it at no cost. One, however, needs to book the accommodation, bedding and transport of luggage. The person who does this at TMNP and who is the best source of information about the Trail is Mercia Rademeyer. She used to be a guide on the Trail. Her contact details are 021 422 2816 and hoerikwaggobookings@sanparks.org.

Oorlogskloof Hiking Trail

I did a five day, 41kms hike in the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve from 15th September to 19th September 2010. The reserve is 360kms north of Cape Town near the town of Nieuwoudtville.

The 5,000 hectare reserve is situated in the Bokkeveld Mountains and is on the edge of the escarpment. We were signed up to do the 52kms Rock Pigeon Hiking Trail but on two occasions a few of us switched to sections of the Rameron Pigeon Hiking Trail, resulting in some of us doing a lesser distance. We carried full packs except that tents and mattresses were provided. I found the trail to be demanding with a few challenging moments.

Oorlogskloof can be translated from Afrikaans to mean War Ravine or Gorge. It was apparently so named in September 1739 by white farmers who had created a commando (or posse) to discipline the indigenous Khoi and San people who were accused of stock theft. The main gorge was created by the Oorlogskloof River cutting into the plateau with tributaries creating other smaller gorges or valleys. So the trail started on the plateau and dropped into and climbed out of these gorges and valleys and, towards the end, travelled along the escarpment, at the edge of the plateau, with views down to the lower altitude farms. The Google Earth image below was produced by Victor showing the route that he did. My route was the same for about 80% of the distance. If you double click on the image a larger version should be visible.

My hiking companions were:

John Taylor (56) a property developer and the organiser of the hike

Janie (53) the wife of John and the owner of a company teaching writing skills

David (51) previously in IT but now been a tour guide for seven years

Dennis (60) a real estate agent

Jacqui (48) a lifestyle counsellor

Klaus (54) previously an arts and crafts museum curator in Germany but now a tour guide in SA

Steve (62) a retired professional photographer who left Warwickshire, England in 1976

Victor (50) an electronics engineer

So an average age, including me (56), of 54 with a variety of life stories and relationships. Except for John and Janie I did not know any of the others.

Klaus, Victor, Jacqui, Dennis, David, Steve, Janie, John

Day 1 Wednesday 15th September

4kms from the start at Groot Tuin to Brakwater

15h00 to 16h30 = 1.5 hours

This was an easy start after driving up from Cape Town in the morning. The route started on the plateau and after meandering on the flat through forest and rock formations it dropped into a valley, up the other side and down into a second valley. It quickly became clear that the developer of the trail was determined to show us every interesting rock formation, water feature and view and thus the path zig zagged to take us to these features. As we learnt over the next few days rocks are a dominant feature of the area and so we boulder hopped, climbed rock stairs, kept our balance on huge sloping rock slabs, pulled ourselves up, sat down to move forward, squeezed through narrow rock passages, ducked through rock caves and shimmied up rock chimneys.

Baboons objected to our presence and barked from a safe distance. We saw a dazzle of seven mountain zebra far below us in the valley. Small pretty flowers grew alongside the path. And so we descended to our camp at Brakwater. This was five heavy canvas tents, each 2 metres square with three 5cm thick mattresses in each. They were attractively laid out in the trees with a central area around a fire place. I was hot from the hike and had a quick swim in the icy cold river close to the camp. We started to get to know each other as we prepared dinner. I was teased as I discovered that my small supply of whisky had leaked in my bag with all my dinner food. A fire was built and lit as it got dark. I was asleep by 20h00.

Weight

This was the first time in 35 years that I have done a hike with a full pack. Over that time technology has improved and equipment has got lighter but my body has got weaker. The objective was to keep the weight as low as possible but still have everything I needed. My pack weight built up as follows:

Item Kgs
Pack 2.75
Sleeping bag 1.15
Rain jacket 0.65
Track suit bottom and fleece 0.65
Cooking stove and 2 gas canisters 0.85
Pot and mug 0.35
Water bottle and water (0.7l) 0.85
Sub total 7.25

Dinner x4

0.90
Lunch x4 2.25
Oatso breakfast x4 0.25
Snacks 2.25
Hot chocolate and tea bags 0.20
Sub total 13.10
Towel, swimming costume, 2 pairs of socks, toilet roll, tooth brush, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, dish washing liquid, wash up brush, wooden spoon, spork, whisky, first aid items, sun cream, rubbish bag, notebook and pen, head torch 2.40
Total pack weight on departure 15.50
Total pack weight at end 12.75
Weight of rubbish at end 0.35
Weight of uneaten food at end!! 2.70

So if I had catered correctly I could have reduced my pack weight on departure to 12.8kgs. I didn’t use the spare gas canister nor the dish washing liquid (hot water was sufficient) nor my swimming costume but otherwise everything else was used. I certainly could not have had fewer clothes! So it would have been difficult to get lower than 12.5kgs. Steve had a pack half my size which must have weighed less than 10kgs and he seemed to have everything he needed. I don’t know how he did it! My trip would certainly have been easier if my pack had been 12.5kgs rather than 15.5kgs on departure.

Day 2 Thursday 16th September

8.5kms Brakwater to Driefontein

08h30 to 14h45 = 6.25 hours

The river was supposed to be crossed by walking on two poles 30cms apart. I was very uncomfortable about trusting my balance, especially with a full pack on my back. Fortunately the river was low enough for me to be able to boulder hop across it.

The bridge across the river

We walked 500m up a jeep track and then turned on to a contour path along the side of the mountain. The route often went over, round or under rocks which slowed the pace.

In one place a large steeply sloping rock blocked the path and had to be negotiated by holding on to a rope as one walked at an angle across the slab. After three kilometres the path met the river and hugged the river for the next 3kms. We had a long lunch next to rock pools and I had a swim and washed my shirt. Dennis was not as fit as he should have been and so he was going slowly. John, Janie and David kept him company. I left the lunch spot with the other four but quickly found that they were far fitter than me. The path climbed steadily and I tired quickly. Big rock steps became huge obstacles. There were many short wooden ladders of two or three steps but often in quite exposed places. At this point the mountain fell away sharply from the path.

The path up towards the waterfall

Victor, Jacqui and Steve waited for me to reach a waterfall over the edge of the escarpment.

The waterfall

The way past it was to crouch through a slightly wet 15m long crack in the rock behind the waterfall.

The way behind the waterfall

Shortly afterwards there was a sign that indicated 260m to Driefontein camp which seemed quite inconceivable as everywhere around us was so steep. There was a short sharp series of steep large rock steps and then we breasted the escarpment to find a flat plateau and a lovely camp between rocks and trees.

About ninety minutes later John appeared to advise that his party of four were not doing the last ascent to the camp but instead were descending 500m down the mountain to the camp on the Rameron Pigeon Route called ‘Kameel se gat’, which was on our route for the next day. We had another lovely fire and I retired early. Sunset was around 18h30 with sunrise twelve hours later. I was normally asleep by 20h00 and awake, but not necessarily up, by 06h30. When I went to the toilet at 03h00 the moon had set and the sky was ablaze with stars.

Weather

We did the trail at the perfect time weather wise. It was lightly overcast half the time and sunny the rest. We could not measure the temperature en route but we generally felt that the temperature did not exceed 25°C and was generally lower during the day. There was also a light breeze for most of the time. As soon as the sun set it got colder and temperatures probably dropped to 7°C at night. We had a few drops of rain one night. We found water relatively easily although I did run out of water twice on Day 3. I assume that after the end of October this trail gets incredibly hot during the day and, very importantly, the water dries up until the winter. From the description of the camps it is clear that at some time in the year the water disappears at Doltuin Camp at which point one has to walk for 20 minutes from the camp to collect water! In the winter the nights will be a lot colder and there will be rain. The Oorlogskloof River is apparently too high to be crossed below Driefontein at times during the winter.

Day 3 Friday 17th September

12kms Driefontein to Doltuin

08h15 to 16h15 = 8 hours

This was my toughest day. I have a fear of exposure which I define as a situation where a slip will result in me falling a long distance and there is a reasonable chance of a slip. As we reached the edge of the escarpment I recoiled at the exposure of the last 50m that we had climbed the previous afternoon. I turned away from the view and faced the rock and started edging my way down. Steve guided me as to where to place my hands and feet. There was then a 450m rock strewn descent. The other four leapt from rock to rock like mountain gazelles while I edged down on my backside, clung to branches and slipped on loose gravel.

The descent from Driefontein with the path visible bottom right

I was able to boulder hop across the river and avoid the six 8m long pairs of poles intended as bridges.

Most people avoided this very dodgy looking bridge

The descent had taken 45 minutes and had tired me but there was to be no rest as the fit four leapt at the 500m ascent that faced us. The slower group had left early and could be seen at the top of the mountain ahead of us. I was tired and forced my way up the mountain. I sweated. I puffed. I rested. And the others just kept going. Klaus waited for me at a large rock blocking the way where he guided me as to how to climb over it. The four were waiting at the base of the final cliff where there was a small spring with gorgeous cold clear water. The final ascent was climbing through a chimney and then negotiating two slabs of rock by holding on to steel ropes. It had taken me two hours to cover the first kilometre of the day!

The Chimney

The next 11kms were comparatively easy as we meandered on the plateau. The path took us to the edge of the escarpment and spectacular views. It wandered through forests of Proteas. Gorgeous small flowers blossomed along the way.

Lots of baboon droppings testified to their hidden numbers. We caught up the other group and then we spread out along the trail again. The route always went over the rocky outcrops, never around them. My legs ached. I stopped three times to brew rooibos tea.

The day got hotter and the path ran along a small river. About a kilometre before the camp a small pool demanded attention and so I stripped off and bathed in the screamingly cold water and washed some of my clothes. I found Doltuin camp to be the least attractive of the four camps because it only had a few bushes but others liked the views across the plateau.

Klaus did a sterling job collecting wood for us to have another fire. There was light rain during the night.

Fitness

I spin three or more times a week which is my principal way to keep fit. I haven’t done a lot of hiking this year but was quite comfortable hiking to the top of Table Mountain last Sunday. Carrying a full pack makes a significant difference to the fitness demands. Do not do this trail if you there is any doubt about your fitness. A good test of whether you are fit enough would be to start at the top of Platteklip Gorge on Table Mountain with a full pack. Hike to the bottom of the gorge. Turn around at the bottom and hike back up again and then hike to Constantia Neck. I think that that approximates to Day 3 of the Trail. I felt that I was fit enough to do the trail even though I battled at times. I was left behind by the elite squad but they hike most weekends and are extraordinarily fit. There is no doubt that the fitter one is the more enjoyable the trail will be.

Equipment

My pack was an Osprey Aether 70 which was wonderful. It kept the pack away from my back allowing my back to be cooled by air. There is a lower front entry section, a main top entry section and a good sized pocket in the top flap. There are two side pockets for water bottles. The waist, shoulder and breast straps all adjust easily to distribute the weight. My boots are Meindl Vulkaan GTX boots which I swear by. They support my feet in a wonderful way and protect my ankles when I twist and stumble. I had no trouble with my feet at all. I was very happy with the Tracer Tee shirt from Cape Storm which wicked the sweat off my body quickly and could be washed often en route because it dried so quickly. I wore Lycra shorts as underpants which eliminated any rubbing of legs and also dried quickly after washing. Most people carry Crocs to wear in camp but I prefer very sturdy hiking sandals (Teva Terra Fi3) which I also wear when I swim in rivers with uncertain bottoms. (I agree that me stepping into a river wearing only my sandals is not a pretty sight but I am normally alone!) As it got colder at night I added my rain jacket to my fleece to keep me warm. I was pleased with the light weight and efficiency of my K-Way Zermatt 950 Eco sleeping bag and my MSR PocketRocket gas stove.

Day 4 Saturday 18th September

10kms Doltuin to Pramkoppie

08h00 to 13h30 = 5.5 hours

The group went four ways today. Dennis and David took a 3km emergency route across the middle of the plateau to a jeep track. (This route was apparently tough going and overgrown.) Dennis then went a further 4kms north east along the jeep track to our first camp, Brakwater. He spent the night there alone and the next day did the 4kms back to the end of the trail. David went 4kms west along the jeep track to Pramkoppie Camp. The elite squad of Victor, Jacqui, Steve and Klaus did a 17kms route along the edge of the escarpment. John, Janie and me cheated by switching to the Rameron Pigeon route for about 3kms and then switching back to the Rock Pigeon route. This saved us about 7kms. On the map the two switching places were obvious. In practice they involved real bundu bashing with bushes slashing at my legs. Inevitably we had to dispose of a few ticks before they became too comfortable on our legs. Otherwise it was an easy pleasant walk over the plateau.

About 2kms before the end we reached the escarpment and had a view for twenty or more kilometres across farmlands and, in the distance, the road that we had travelled on by car.

The path descended steeply to a neck between the mountains and then led us into a gentle valley where we found the delightful Pramkoppie Camp.

Pramkoppie Camp is hidden from sight in this valley

We had a lazy afternoon with cries of welcome as first David and then the elite squad arrived. David and I went in search of the signposted busmen paintings but decided that they didn’t amount to much. There is a long drop pit toilet at each camp normally surrounded by a reed fence. In this camp the vegetation was thicker so the toilet was found in a small clearing in the forest.

The last supper was eaten. The final alcohol consumed. Some last nuggets of personal information were shared. David enchanted us by playing on his recorder.

Food

I carried 2.7kgs of food which I did not eat so I did not cater well. I ate less than I anticipated at main meals but did a lot of grazing during the day. I ate Oatso porridge one breakfast but couldn’t be bothered to cook it again. I cooked packet soups three times. I enjoyed a pack of Back Country Freeze Dried Thai Chicken Curry but was told that other meals in the range varied considerably. Another night I enjoyed a Pick n Pay Pasta and Cheese Sauce. I hated a pack of PnP Instant Noodles. Others enjoyed Knorr Fresh Ideas pasta products. I grazed on mixed dried fruit, biltong, droe wors, carrots, apples, cheddar cheese on Pro-Vita, small Mars bars and small nougat bars. I had a taste of David’s John West Light Meat Tuna which came in a single sandwich helping 85g size pack which I enjoyed. My greatest enjoyment came from regular cups of rooibos tea. Oh and of course I enjoyed my small bottle of whisky!

Day Five Sunday 19th September

6.7kms Pramkoppie to finish at Groot Tuin

07h30 to 11h15 = 3.75 hours

I could see that the day was starting with a 1.2km ascent out of the valley so I was first out of the starting blocks and slogged up the hill. We all met on the plateau and then the group split. Victor, Jacqui and Steve took the longer Rock Pigeon Route while John, Janie, David, Klaus and I took the Rameron Pigeon Route which was about 3kms shorter. We skirted the escarpment for a while with the now familiar spectacular views down to the farmlands and then picked up speed on an easy undulating path.

The last 2kms were along the same path as we had started on at the beginning of the trail. We performed the obligatory zig zag from rock formation, to clump of trees, to cottage ruin and back to another rock cluster and then arrived happily back at the cars. The beer that had been left in a cooler box tasted heavenly!

Assessment

This is an attractive trail. The scenery is big. The views are spectacular. The rock formations are very interesting. The camps are attractive. The hiking is challenging at times. We were principally on the Rock Pigeon Route but I think that the Rameron Pigeon Route offers a similar experience. I found the exposure very uncomfortable at times but I don’t think that it bothered many others.  One needs to have a good degree of fitness to enjoy the experience. The trail will be far more challenging, and possibly even unpleasant, in the heat of the summer, especially if water is scarce and also in the wet and cold of winter. The way is generally well indicated with cairns. At path junctions there are signs but these vary in clarity. Sometimes they indicate the direction by trail name. At other times they indicate the destination, rather than the trail, which is irritating when the destination is the same but the route is different. On the last day there was a trail route sign for a trail that no longer exists. There are kilometre distance signs every kilometre but irritatingly they start counting from Brakwater rather than the start of the trail so the count is always 4kms less than one has actually walked. Unfortunately the trail is not being maintained properly. There are about 300 wooden steps that have come away leaving the stakes in the ground. When the trail was first built those steps were considered necessary. Now they are not there. We probably used 60 short ladders. These are made from wood, are deteriorating and are often positioned quite precariously. In my view there will be an unhappy accident on one of those ladders soon. These negatives notwithstanding I think that this is a good trail and am pleased that I did it.