This is Part 3 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 2: Fabulous views, fragrant fynbos and starry skies
- Part 4: Heat haze, jeep tracks and a full moon braai
- Part 5: The long way home via five mountain passes
During the night, a strong wind came up, roaring across the valley and whipping at the bushes and trees outside. So many nocturnal sounds: the creaks and grumbles of our timber cabin, the rustles of dry leaves on the ground, the mysterious sounds of unidentified animals foraging in the dark, the soft pad-pad-pad of a little cat descending the wooden staircase from the loft and settling down on the rug at the foot of the bed…
The wind was still blowing vigorously on Saturday morning. But the sky was clear and blue, and we were eager to go exploring. Our destination this time was the intriguingly named ‘Temptation Dam’ in the valley to the east of Pampoen Fontein farm. Guests are allowed to swim in the dam, which sounded like a wonderful treat in the hot summer months.
After a leisurely breakfast, we applied a protective layer of sunscreen to face, arms and legs, packed some snacks and a bottle of water into our rucksack, and headed eastwards into the sun. And straight into a blustery headwind that threatened to blow off our hats!
A very important intersection
Shortly after the broad gravel road turned southwards almost at right angles, the road divided into two. Judging from the jumble of sign boards, this was definitely an important intersection.
If you were to continue southwards, more or less along the spine of the mountain, you would reach the Berghoff Mountain Top Chalets (which are listed in the Budget Getaways guide) and the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area.
The GWWA is a vast, rough and mountainous region, between 1,000 and 2,000 metres above sea-level, with many unusually weathered rock formations of Table Mountain sandstone. Numerous rock paintings, between 300 and 6000 years old, of the Bushmen or San can be found in these rugged mountains. The main vegetation here is mountain fynbos, with protea and erica species flowering at different times of the year.
In addition to small buck, such as klipspringers, Cape grysbok and Grey rhebok, the area is also home to predators, such as baboons, caracals, genets, wildcats and leopards (the Cape Leopard Trust was established some years ago to track, monitor and research leopards in the Cedarberg mountains and surroundings).
Unfortunately, the GWWA was closed for road repairs until the end of April 2010, so we weren’t able to access the various hiking trails there.
The road to the left (eastwards) would take you to guest farms such as Rockhaven Farm, Cedar Peak, Coen’s House and Heidedal Homestead, and Freed Om Sound Mountain Farm, all of which are also listed in the Budget Getaways guide.
This is the road we took. It descended very gradually into the eastern valley with its patchwork of farms, dams, fields and orchards.
Wow, look at this scenery – just beautiful! I wonder what is growing in that large red patch in the middle distance?
In one of the fenced-in fields below, this pretty horse must have heard the crunching of our boots on the gravel road, because it paused to gaze straight at the camera. Oh! Beautiful!
As we marched down the road, leaning into the gusting wind, we began to feel quite small in this vast and extraordinary landscape. The howling and whistling sounds of the wind, as it funnelled through and between the rocks, lent an edge of eeriness to our surroundings – just an edge.
I wondered whether there were baboons up on the tallest rocks, looking down at us and debating whether to send down a raiding party? Actually – what would we do, if we were confronted by baboons? Were they as fearless of humans as the ones at Cape Point and in the Southern Peninsula? Would they confront us and demand that we hand over our picnic? I hoped fervently that these rural cousins would prefer to keep their distance.
As we strode along, looking up at the cliffs and boulders and rocks that surrounded us on all sides, we noticed that we were perhaps not entirely alone after all. Depending on your perspective, and the light and shadows cast by the sun, we could identify all kinds of different creatures and beings in the rocks and boulders that made up these hills and koppies.
A warthog lying on its tummy – can you see it?
A very angry rock, expressing its outrage at passers-by:
An elephant, trumpeting his call into the blue sky:
A dassie, resting halfway up a slope:
A curious tortoise, peering out from underneath its shell:
A boot, that someone had forgotten right at the top of an exposed boulder:
Eventually, we emerged from among the piles of rocks and boulders, as the road levelled out and widened.
We approached a long palisade fence that had been erected as a boundary between the road and a dam, which was glittering prettily in the early morning sunlight. A sign on the fence announced that we had now arrived at Temptation Dam!
A sandy track led us down to the edge of the water, and a wooden structure that was presumably erected to provide some shelter against the elements.
We ambled around, exploring the dam and its surroundings. The water seemed quite shallow along the edge, but I don’t know how deep it was further in. It was the familiar reddish brown colour so typical of mountain dams in fynbos areas; the colour apparently comes from the breakdown of tannins and phenols in the local vegetation. I think it looks like a diluted and oh-so-refreshing ice-cold drink of Coke!
The dam was edged, all around, by a growth of spiky fynbos, almost down to the water, which was lapping gently at the soft sand. We made our way to a little outcrop, fringed by reeds, and sat down right at the top to absorb the peace and tranquility of this lovely spot.
And it was just the perfect place for a picnic!
Wind, sun and shadows
After a while, we made our way back to the gravel road. Not quite ready to return home yet, and curious to see just a little more of the valley beyond, we continued walking eastwards along the broad road for a couple of hundred metres. Unfortunately, the wind was howling quite ferociously, the sun was beating down with increasing heat, and the realisation that we would have to walk back all the way up that hill, persuaded us to turn around before we reached any of the buildings we had glimpsed below.
On our way back, we amused ourselves by identifying more stone sentinels in the rocky outcrops on either side of the road.
I wonder whether this tired-looking elephant was the mate of the one that we had seen earlier, trumpeting for its partner? Maybe it was feeling a little under the weather? Or longing to lounge about in a mud-pool, squirting cold water over itself?
Oh! Look! This had to be a St Bernard dog having a conversation with a bullfrog!
And this configuration of rocks looked exactly like two dinosaurs – well, to me at least. If you look realllly carefully, perhaps you can see the head with its pointed snout and a stern-looking eye, facing to the right, and its back all humped up and covered in large scales. The triangular rock in front of it is a different type of dinosaur, and it must be lying down, partly buried in the ground, and looking towards the left. Can you see its eye? And a little further down the left-facing edge of his head, perhaps you can even make out its nostril?
OK, I guess you really do need to have a vivid imagination. 🙂
At the top of the last uphill section, just before we came to the Very Important Intersection once more, stood a cluster of abandoned labourers’ cottages. I wonder how long they have been abandoned? Or why? The view from up there would surely be magnificent, so I can’t imagine why they left?
Some of the buildings no longer had any doors, or windows, and were boarded up with strips of weathered corrugated iron that creaked and clanged in the wind. It all felt rather eerie, and we wondered whether there might in fact still be people living in them. When I encounter places like these, where there is obviously a story, I always want to find out what it is!
A giant crocodile with a breath-taking view
Back on the main gravel road, we crested the final hill just as the wind gave us a little nudge from the back. As we strolled down to our cottage, we saw a pile of rocks that resembled a giant crocodile, sitting upright and looking out across the vast plains beyond.
The view down from here, the top of the Olifants River mountains, and all the way across the vast plains between Porterville and Piketberg, was ab-so-lu-te-ly breath-taking.