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. 

Author: Robyn