3 lessons from wilderness camping at Cape Nature Reserve

Excited is an understatement.

I couldn’t wait for this trip.

When my cousins, Sebastian and Jane asked me to join them on a multi-day hike through Cape Nature Reserve, I didn’t think twice. I was all-in.

And let me tell you, it was am-a-zing.

I really just needed a getaway.

I didn’t anticipate how physically demanding it would be though. Especially since we’d had to pass through several river rapids on lilos, rock jump, and carry hefty backpacks from sunrise to sunset – for four days.

Every effort was worth it.

From the get-go:

We’d trekked from Porterville, about 155 km north east of Cape Town. I ran into the tour office with Jane, who thought that I was better at Afrikaans – but spoke to the receptionist anyway.

We got onto the back of a bakkie and Lisa (Jane’s friend), led us to the trail.

Rick, their American friend, was also with us. He’d come to South Africa for this first time and I guess that this trail offered him a true reflection of how beautiful our country is.

Little did he know that he was going to be bitten by horseflies and nibbled by freshwater fish.

I didn’t even know that horseflies existed before this trip. Their harmless bites left my legs itching for days after I’d returned home.

On our way to the entrance of the trail, we picked up a Swiss paraglider who said that he’d been travelling for two months. “Goals,” I thought. I repeated everything he’d said in my mind, trying to make sense of the words from his accent.

Nearing the entrance, I purposefully sat in the direction of the wind – it’d been a long time since I’d felt this at ease on a trip – not having to do much planning or stressing about  safety on my usual solo missions. I closed my eyes and let the wind catch my face.

Moments like those are are few and far between.

1st Night: camping under a tree near Die Hel rock pool

Jane cooked us supper in a pot, using a gas stove and some river jack stones. We had pasta, soy chicken, peppadews, onions, and some sweet and sour sauce that tasted really delicious. We drank straight from the river that supplies the city’s fresh water. I was skeptical of drinking the water at first but the rest of the gang were quite clued up on the surrounding resources. “As long as you’re drinking the water that flows, it’s okay to drink,” Lisa said.

camping in the western cape
A snack and a swim before heading to our camping spot. Photo/ Sebastian Wyngaard
Jane having a quick swim to cool down in the searing heat. Photo/ Sebastian Wyngaard
camping in the western cape
Find a levelled piece of land to make sure that you sleep comfortably. Photo/ Sebastian Wyngaard

2nd Night: sleeping in a valley, across from a waterfall

The gushing sound of the waterfall, though loud, was somewhat therapeutic. Jane, Rick, and Sebastian played cards with head lights on – after supper, while I journaled, and Lisa had her head buried in a book.

Swimming in a really deep rock pool; dodging tree branches as we sailed through the river on our lilos, and stopping at the nearest river bank for snack time and lunch, made me realize just how little I needed to enjoy myself. There were no TVs, not toilets, no WiFi… And it was fun.

Lisa and Sebastian floating on the river’s current. Photo/ Sebastian Wyngaard
Sailing through river rapids was an exhilarating experience. Photo/ Sebastian Wyngaard
camping in the western cape
I woke up to this view. Photo/ Sebastian Wyngaard

3rd Night: a sandy campsite by the river bank

Have you ever had instant mash potato? It’s dehydrated  and mashed potato powder that returns to it’s fluffy, white texture when you add hot water. Camping food hacks were really on point here. I, of course brought tins of beans, that added to the weight of my bag and I couldn’t discard because it’s not bio-degradable. Try not to pack tins if you don’t need to.

This campsite was a little difficult to sleep on. The river bank formed a slight slope and kept slipping off my lilo. The sun had set at around 8 pm and we could clearly see the orange and red tints disappear behind the mountains. It was beautiful.

camping in the western cape
Rick and I trekking through some rocklands. Photos/ Sebastian Wyngaard
camping in the western cape
Supper time at our sandy campsite:) Photo/ Robyn Ruth Thomas

3 life lessons from camping:

How to appreciate nature

Following the entire trail gave me an opportunity to spot so many natural elements that I was oblivious to. From monstrous insects, fearless fish, and the sounds of baboons barking in the distance, I finally got to experience a minimalist excursion, which I will be doing more of.

You don’t need a lot to be happy

Overall, I’d spent about R 1000 on this trip, including food, travelling to and fro, reserve permit, and minor gear. As travel writer, Robin Esrock says, ” people you meet, create the paradise you find.” And I think that it’s important to make sure that you’re in good company on any trip, otherwise you won’t enjoy it, no matter where you are.

The most difficult moments arise before the end

I was the last person to complete the trail and just as I was nearing the final hilly stretch of land that leads to the road, someone screamed, “watch out for the hole!” Reeds and sticks had covered what seemed to be a deep dip and the only way to get across was to hang onto a tree branch and swing my way to the other side. I thought, “really? I’m metres away from reaching the road and now I still have to swing my weight to dodge a hole?” But I did. And I’m more capable because of it.

camping in the western cape
“Cheese!” Photo/ Sebastian Wyngaard

What are some of the things that you’ve learned while travelling? Leave me a comment in the space (right down) below, or connect with me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I’d love to connect with you. 

Road trip through the world’s longest Wine Route: Route 62

montagu springs trip

Grab some snacks, your camera, a buddy, and take a drive through Route 62.

You won’t be sorry.

If you’re looking for a cosy, affordable destination to escape to – not too far from Cape Town, stopover in the quaint town of Montagu.

The town is absolutely peaceful.

Shops are closed on a Sunday, there’s no rush to go anywhere – the people are friendly, and you can find  some genuinely mouthwatering healthy snacks at the markets.

Nothing beats catching wind on the back of a bakkie; getting to drive through messy puddles, sifting through heaps of vintage treasures, and taking home the bulk of the town’s specialties. Home baked biscuits, nuts, biltong, dried fruit and wine, wine, wine – is what you’ll find lots of at low cost, along Route 62.

One disappointment; I curse Cape Town’s coffee shops and restaurants for treating me to variety – unless you’re planning a sit-down at a restaurant for coffee, the most exotic option you’ll find is a Cappuccino with full cream milk. No Chai Lattes, no soy milk or honey substitutes, not even a decaf Cappuccino to go (to be found), anywhere from the N1 to Ashton. I packed my almond milk for the weekend, in case I wanted to have some Oats for breakfast at Montagu Springs Resort.

The self-catered experience

Who doesn’t love waking up to a rich breakfast in the morning. Staying over at a place that doesn’t offer breakfast can sometimes be inconvenient, especially if you’re trekking to the middle of nowhere. I love traveling light so I usually ensure that wherever I go, there’s a place to grab breakfast nearby. This is why staying at Montagu Springs Resort was perfect. While the resort is a fully self-catering venue, we could walk (but chose to drive) to Main Road, where restaurants and grocery stores lined the streets. There is also a superette just outside the resort where you  can find the essentials like tea, bread, milk, and biscuits.

At the resort, there are three swimming pools, one heated – it’s like getting into a bath, except that it’s outside, surrounded by greenery and mountains. There’s also three tennis courts, lots of space to braai, a huge playground where kids can jungle gym, swing, and run around, and bicycles for hire (at about R30 per hour). Avalon Springs is right next door with a restauarant, two bars, a spa, and the natural mineral springs. We popped into Avalon Springs but didn’t use any of the facilities so I’m not too sure whether it’s any good.

Our chalet was spacious and cosy. We checked into a Josmont Heights Chalet, which had a private deck with a braai place, a walk-in bathroom, a fully self-catering kitchen with cutlery and crockery, and a glass door in the main bedroom, leading out onto the deck. Waking up to the sound of birds, spotting the greenery and towering mountains, is definitely worth the experience. This is not a luxury resort so don’t expect percale linen or fancy furniture. Check out the resort pricing and chalet specials on their website for more information and photos.

accommodation along route 62accommodation along route 62accommodation along route 62

The drive Through Route 62 and using GPS

You don’t really need GPS for this road trip, it’s pretty straight forward. The road is long and scenic, something a writer like me finds inspiring. The towns you’ll pass through, if you’re travelling from Cape Town, and let’s stay, stopover in Montagu, are Paarl, Worcester, Nuy, Robertson, and Ashton. There’s more than enough to explore on the way there and back.

We’d planned to go hiking in the mountains, a few steps from our chalet at Montagu Springs; we wanted to cycle through the town, enjoy a Saturday lunch at one of the restaurants but we just didn’t have enough time. At leas three to four full days to absorb the atmosphere – to really explore all that Route 62 has to offer, would have sufficed. If not more.

Here’s how to get to Montagu from Cape Town

Roadtrip essentials

  • Water
  • Cash or credit card for e-toll gate
  • Sunnies
  • Warm clothes or blanky
  • Padkos (road trip snacks)
  • GPS or road map (if you must)

Montagu is just over 2 hours drive from Cape Town and there are quite a few pitstops along the way where you can refuel, refresh, and take lots of photos.

What has been your best road trip yet? I’d love to hear from you. Pop me a comment in the space below or email me directly to robyn@bewhole.co.za

 

 

 

The best route to hike up Table Mountain

Wow! What an amazing workout. For a minute, I didn’t think that I was going to make it. But I did. I finally hiked to Table Mountain’s summit – a natural New 7 wonder of the world *(wipes sweat off forehead). It was such an adventure – a must-do activity for any hiking enthusiast.

A tired but relieved photo moment of me resting on the top of Table Mountain. Photo/ Oupa Mollo
A tired but relieved photo moment of me resting at the top of Table Mountain. Photo/ Oupa Mollo
Where to hike from

There are quite a few hiking trails to follow in Table Mountain National Park but not all of them lead to Table Mountain’s summit.  Take a look at the 5 most popular hiking routes, here. Reaching the summit is, of course, the show-stopper off all trails.  Whether you’re hiking up Table Mountain, Lion’s head, Kilimanjaro or wherever else, it’s not really as exciting to hike a path that doesn’t peak or is that just me?

We hiked from Platteklip Gorge, situated to the right of the lower aerial cableway on Tafelberg Road. We drove ahead of the lower cable way entrance to reach a Wendy house where there are public toilets. This is quite close to the entrance of the trail. There’s a big green sign that reads: Platteklip Gorge.

The level of difficulty: Hard. It really depends on your level of fitness and how well you pace yourself.

Distance: More or less 3km. It’s only 1.2km according to Google Maps but please don’t believe that. Google maps also say that it will take 19minutes to reach the summit.  They’ve got jokes.  I reached the summit in just under 2 hours while my boyfriend, who speed walked, reached the summit in just over an hour.

The scenery is spectacular. I regret not taking more photos. Cape Town spoils us (locals) with such beautiful scenery. There’s so much of the city that I have yet to explore.

day2photo3
The sign indicating the entrance to Platteklip Gorge
A lovely view of Platteklip Gorge as we near Table Mountain's summit. Photo/ Oupa Mollo
A lovely downhill view of Platteklip Gorge as we near Table Mountain’s summit. Photo/ Oupa Mollo
The pathway is quite clear and safe as it's set by rocks - hence the name, 'Platteklip' (flat rock).
The pathway is quite clear and safe as it’s set by rocks – hence the name, ‘Platteklip’ (flat rock).
What to bring

LOTS OF WATER – there aren’t any outlets for drinking water along the hiking trail so it’s essential that you carry water with you. I met the sweetest French nurse along the trail who was carrying a water bladder with a pump in a backpack – it’s such a cool gadget for the serious hiker or even nomad traveller.

Sun protection – this is important.  I missed a few spots when applying sunblock on my back and now I am bearing the brunt. If you’re not super fit, your body will be a bit sore after the long uphill walk and the last thing you want to endure with that is sunburn. Also, ensure that you have a sunhat- unless you’re sporting a thick Afro like I do – then you’re safe.

Activewear – ensure that you are wearing clothing that allows optimal flexibility, as well as shoes with rubber grip soles. You’d think that it would be a silly thing to tell people what type of clothing they should wear on a hike, but it’s actually a reasonable tip. As I was walking uphill, a girl was walking in the opposite direction, wearing a ¾ shirt and Tomy takkies. Maybe she wasn’t planning to hike initially or she’s never hiked before but she was evidentially uncomfortable having to lift her legs knee-high to climb rocks.

Related: Finding solace in Mozambique

Who to go with

The number one rule of mountain safety for hikers is that you don’t hike alone. The recommended number of hikers per group is four people.  Some people prefer to hike alone because there aren’t many people who match their fitness level, or sometimes it’s just because they enjoy time on their own. However, don’t chance hiking up or down Table Mountain alone as it’s not safe to do so.

Hiking buddies: From left, Oupa Mollo, me, Imraan Toffar, Tshegofatso Matseba, right, Megan Isaacs.
The best time to hike

*(singing) Oh, what a beautiful morning! Oh, what a beautiful day! The best hikes that I have been on were morning hikes – most of them early enough to catch the sunrise and with cool enough weather to avoid sunburn.

You can nearly get away with hiking at any climate season in Cape Town. Mother Nature spoils us with great weather all the time even though our summers are dry and hot, and our winters are cold and wet. Consider checking the weather forecast a few days ahead of your intended hike. Avoid hiking on windy and cloudy days, especially when hiking Table Mountain because it can be dangerous – and if you’re planning to up to  Table Mountain’s summit and take the cable car down, it’s important to note that the cableway is out of service on windy days.

The view from the top of Table Mountain. Photo/ Megan Isaacs
The view from the top of Table Mountain. Photo/ Megan Isaacs
Tips for SA hikers
  • Upon presentation of your student card, All South African students only pay half-price for cable car tickets on Fridays.
  • If you’re a South African citizen and it’s your birthday, Table Mountain Aerial Cableway will offer you a free (return) cable car ticket! How cool are they!

 

I love hiking and would love to explore other hiking trails in Cape Town and surrounds. Have you hiked a scenic spot worth writing about? I’d love to hear from you.

Connect with me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

You may also want to read: Solo mission to New York

Finding solace in Mozambique

About Robyn

Perhaps there was something hazy in the afternoon air but Mozambique brought a sense of calm to all of us. It’s an aquarium; tranquil, natural, and humbling.

I travelled to the South of Mozambique with a group of surfers. I didn’t know them personally, but we shared a common love for surfing and the ocean. For a novice [surfer], it’s the perfect place to get into the water and experience the silence and overall beauty of the ocean. The sheer magnitude of the reefs and marine life is incredible.

We free-dived a shipwreck about a kilometer out to sea — that experience is something that I will never forget. A huge, once-grand, old boat lie on the ocean floor, fish swam in and out of the portholes, monster-sized crayfish settled inside little crevasses, and cute little seahorses kept popping up. I wondered if the crew had made it out alive. I wondered what it must have been like for the Captain when he’d realized that he’d hit the reef and that his boat was going down.

RelatedFrom Bellville to Grenoble

The landscape was unspoilt and rural. The air was clean and there were no tarred roads. I loved that it was off the beaten track – no large cities nearby, and the locals were quite friendly. In the town’s local market, beaded accessories were sold, locally designed clothing, cashew nuts and the infamous Tipo Tinto – an unforgiving Rum native to Mozambique, and best served with raspberry flavoured drink. Just ask for “R&R”.

Rich Culture

Strolling along remote beaches in Mozambique. (Photo/ Callan Blount)
Strolling along remote beaches in Mozambique. (Photo/ Callan Blount)

Houses in the village are built with whichever materials are available and so are the little sailing boats that the locals use for fishing — called Dhows. The simple and practical designs of the Dhows are beautiful. Due to Mozambique being situated on the east coast of South Africa, the weather is warm all-year-round, even in winter. The water is also warm. Coming from Cape Town’s icy cold water, this was a welcomed experience for me.

Beautiful Beaches

Some beaches had pure white monumental sized dunes and sandy bottom beaches. The water was so clear that you could see right to the seabed, while other beaches had rocky reefs on the ocean floor. Another valuable memory was the sunset chats with the crew, whether on the beach or on the boat. I was very blessed to have travelled with legends of the surfing community. Each evening, we would have a cold beer and enjoy the lazy afternoon humidity while the veterans told stories and so forth.

You may also want to read: I toured London in 10 days and this is the short of it

callan_blount_2
Cold beers and sunsets. (Photo/ Callan Blount)

 Mozambique survival hacks:

  • If possible, travel in a group. You’ll have so much fun.
  • Pack light. It’s hot, even in winter.
  • Go in winter. The weather is awesome, it’s Malaria free, and there aren’t many tourists during winter.
  • Very important: Bear in mind that you will be driving on dirt roads. You’ll need a 4×4 of some sort.

Did you enjoy this story compilation of Mozambique? Find more photos of Callan’s trip on his Instagram feed via this link.

 

I’d love to hear from you. Connect with me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Photos by Callan Blount