This is Part 2 of our weekend in the Olifants River Mountains. Here are the links to the other four post about this trip:
- Part 1: Golden fields, rough roads, and a quaint cottage with cat
- Part 3: Stone sentinels, abandoned cottages, and a delightful dam
- Part 4: Heat haze, jeep tracks and a full moon braai
- Part 5: The long way home via five mountain passes
By late Friday afternoon, the midday heat had dissipated somewhat, and we were very keen to go exploring on the farm. I’d spent some time scrutinising the hand-drawn map, which Gemma had thoughtfully left in the information file for her guests at Pampoen Fontein.
We decided to search for the lookout point, because this seemed a fairly straightforward destination. However, as you can see from this Google Earth screen capture, we lost our bearings a little.
Okay, okay, quite a lot.
Klipspringers and stone guardians
We made our way to the gravel access road, and began to walk westwards along it. Right at the top of a rocky outcrop to the south of us, we saw a little buck outlined against the cheerful blue sky. I think the sky always looks so much bluer up here in the crisp clean mountain air.
I guess it might have been a klipspringer – a very fitting Afrikaans name that means ‘rock jumper’ (see here for more information about these beautiful little mountain buck). Its mate appeared to be nibbling on the bushes below.
Our perspective changed, as we walked around the rocky outcrop, until it suddenly looked as though a gigantic stone dog was sitting right at the top, mere metres from the little buck. It seemed to be on guard duty, protectively surveying its terrain and warning away intruders.
Magical, isn’t it? I love these rock sculptures, carved so creatively by Mother Nature with the able assistance of sun, wind, rain and snow. Once we started looking for them, and keeping an eye out for the shifting perspectives of jagged boulders and oddly-shaped rocks, we saw many of these stone sentinels.
We turned off the gravel road onto a sandy track, which eventually took us down to an open gate in a fence.
I couldn’t remember either of these from Gemma’s map, so perhaps we were in the wrong spot?
In a cleared area on the opposite side of what looked like a cultivated field of proteas, with large granite boulders dotted about in the midst of the regular lines of the protea bushes, we could see two small buildings. Two workers in overalls and carrying bags, were jogging up the hill towards us, evidently heading home after their day’s work.
We continued walking up the sandy track, and across the gravel wall of a completely dry dam. On the far side, we climbed up another sandy track, which led us gradually southwards along the ridge of the mountain. By now, we were almost sure that we were in the wrong place, but figured we’d try to find an alternative lookout point instead.
I was surprised at how easily one can become disoriented in unfamiliar terrain; distances are not easy to judge, what looked like a path suddenly fades away, and even though you know that the sun is in the north-west because it is late afternoon, it somehow does not help you to figure out where you are – or where you should be.
The ‘wrong’ lookout point
When we reached a large rocky outcrop just next to the track, we climbed up to the top and took in the truly magnificent views from up here.
We zoomed in with the camera to find Porterville far below us, in the middle of the wheat fields.
These red aloes looked so startling against the white-grey rocks.
A delicate little butterfly appeared to be resting ontop of this bush.
I loved the cheerful purple colour of these flowers against the green foliage.
And these succulents were somehow finding sufficient nutrients in the rocky soil to flourish.
I rather liked how the sunlight made these bushes glow from within.
Eventually, we retraced our steps back down the mountain side, and through the gate in the fence to the large gravel road.
Hm. Now we faced a decision. Should we amble back to our cottage and start preparations for the evening’s braai? Or did we have enough time and energy to see whether we would be able to find the RIGHT lookout point?
Curiosity won, of course.
A second attempt
We decided to head vaguely north, until we came to a sandy track that ran along between tall protea bushes. It was a welcome relief to be walking along in the shade cast by the bushes and the ridge of the mountain on our left, and we were also sheltered a bit from the wind here. Most of the protea bushes had already flowered some time ago, but here and there a few buds remained.
I rather liked these two rocks. At first I thought it might be an archway (perhaps even a magical one to another world? :-)) but now I think it looks more like two affectionate stone giants embracing each other.
After a long time, the trail emerged onto a gravel road. This had to be the road down to the lookout point! We turned left, heading westwards into the late afternoon sun, until we reached a large open area, where the vegetation had been cleared. The remains of pine trees lay scattered about – had some of these been burnt by mountain fires? Or perhaps it was part of an alien vegetation clearing scheme?
The correct lookout point at last
At the end of the road, a sign announced that this was the well-known Pampoenfontein Flying Site, where hanggliders and paragliders are allowed to take off when the wind is right. Ah! That explained the colourful wind socks and the lengths of material tied to branches here and there. They were fluttering in the breeze, indicating wind strength and wind direction.
A metre or two downhill, on our right hand side, a large green mat had been laid down on the ground, anchored all around. This was where you could set up your hangglider or paraglider, and prepare yourself for take-off. On our left, a small gravel track seemed to head further down the slope, most likely to another take-off mat, but we had enough of traipsing around the mountain by now.
It was getting late, so we walked briskly along the dirt road, following it down until we reached its intersection with the main access road to the farm.
Here we turned right and, driven by an increasing yearning for good nourishing food – it’s probably all that clean mountain air, which makes one so hungry! – strode along this until we reached our cottage.
Look! There it is in the middle of the photo!
On our way, we passed this little rocky kopje, with an almost full moon just appearing above it in the early evening sky. A couple of dassies were sunning themselves on the top, or scurrying around, foraging for food. These rotund and furry little creatures are – astonishingly – related to elephants! They are also known as rock hyrax or rock rabbits, with their latin name being Procavia capensis (see here for more information).
As a result, we called this the Dassie Kopje. 🙂
A delicious braai
As soon as we reached home, we began with our braai. (If you aren’t familiar with this time-honoured South African tradition, then have a read of this amusing and informative Visual Guide: How to braai.)
We piled some of the chopped logs so generously provided by our hosts, into the designated metal container. Placing the logs carefully ontop of each other, two by two, we created a little tower and tossed a lit piece of Blitz (our local South African firelighters) into the centre. As the flames from the burning Blitz licked at the logs, they started to catch fire. We briefly held the grid over the flames to burn it clean.
Once the fire had started to burn, we turned our attention to the various ingredients of our supper: We spiced a couple of lamb chops with salt, pepper, ground coriander and some fresh rosemary that I’d brought along from our garden.
We also put some potatoes and butternut on the boil, just to soften them up a little before wrapping them in tinfoil with a dash of butter, and grilling them on the hot coals. (Experience has shown that potatoes need a long time on the coals until they are done – which usually means that they are either charred on the outside because we put them on too soon, or still hard on the inside, because the coals have lost too much heat. So the trick is to par-boil them first, and to turn them frequently.)
And lastly we prepared the cheese, tomato and onion sandwiches, which we were planning to toast on the grid. (By the way, grill-toasted sandwiches taste really good the next day, particularly when you take them along for a mid-hike picnic somewhere in the wilderness!)
As so often happens, it took longer than anticipated for the fire to die down and the coals to reach the correct temperature.
But we didn’t mind waiting. We sat outside on the porch, our feet up, sipping ice-cold beer shandies, and listening to the birds singing their joy into the clear dusk skies. The frogs began their concert in the dam below us. A couple of water fowl – ducks? – paddled across the dam, rippling its surface. I wondered whether there were water lilies growing in the dam, and whether this was why it was called Lilly Cottage?
The setting sun imparted a soft golden colour to the landscape. It all felt so exquisitely peaceful.
The little ginger kitty, whom we had named Lilly-Beth as she appeared to come with Lilly Cottage, entertained us by hopping around crazily while trying to catch a grasshopper. We cheered her on loudly, when she managed to catch one, and then proceeded to chew it down! Clearly, as kitty was telling us, she was very, very hungry! Mind you, so were we.
Finally, exhausted from all her exertions, she lay down near us to wait patiently for her supper.
As the sun sank beyond the western mountain ridge, we sat on the porch, looking northwards across the little dam, and hungrily devoured a truly delicious supper. There probably would have been more leftovers to feed us the next day, if Lilly-Beth hadn’t been quite so ravenous. Poor thing. But she was so skinny that we really didn’t mind sharing our food with her. After polishing off a final plate, and realising that there definitely wouldn’t be any more ‘seconds’, she proceeded to clean herself from top to toe, before settling down on the rug in the lounge, purring appreciatively.
The Other Cat arrives … and leaves!
Suddenly, a plaintive meowing announced the arrival of Another Cat. Curious, I put the plate I’d been washing on the rack, dried my hands, and opened the front door.
Looking up at me was a ginger cat, somewhat larger and older than Lilly-Beth, and with a large white patch circling around her chest and up to her neck on either side. Judging from her increasingly annoyed meowing, she was protesting the fact that we had deliberately and cruelly omitted to feed her.
We weren’t entirely sure whether we wanted to deal with another cat – and particularly not with one who was so forceful in her demeanour! While we were still dithering, Lilly-Beth took the decision out of our hands. As soon as The Other Cat stepped across the threshold, our otherwise mild-mannered and cuddly kitty-cat transformed into a hissing and spitting fire-breathing dragon!!
The Other Cat took the hint, and retreated in a flash. She did pay us one or two more visits on the weekend, but she didn’t try to encroach on Lilly-Beth’s territory again. We were quite happy with that, because we had grown very fond indeed of our cat.
Starry night skies
Our tummies pleasantly full, we sat outside on the porch with a cup of tea in hand, allowing the peacefulness of our surroundings up here at the top of the Olifants River mountains to wash away all residual tensions and stresses of living in a city as large as Cape Town.
Even though it was almost full moon, there were sooo many stars in the sky up here: an astronomer’s dream. This photo doesn’t do it justice at all. The reality was far more magnificent and beautiful.