At the end of May, we spent a couple of days at the delightful Somerset Gift Getaway Farm, tucked away in a narrow little valley at the foothills of the Langeberge, just outside Swellendam. This is Part II of the story of our stay in that area. Here are the links to the other parts:
- Swellendam, here we come! (Part I)
- Lunch in gaol, a berry liqueur tasting, and yawning horses (Part III)
- A challenging hike to waterfalls and rock pools in the mountains (Part IV)
- A new friend, a short canoe trip, and happy horses (Part V)
- Across Tradouw Pass to Barrydale (Part VI)
- Homeward bound via Cogmans Kloof Pass and Du Toits Kloof Pass (Part VII)
Where’s the sun?
“So, who’s getting up to watch the sunrise tomorrow morning?” (Or, in other words, to photograph the sunrise for my blog ;-))
We’d optimistically set the cellphone alarm for close to 7am – way too early for a winter holiday – in the hope of seeing the sunrise.
We hadn’t seen anything of our surroundings last night because we’d arrived after nightfall. But I knew from Google Earth that the farm was located in a long valley, aligned roughly east-west and traversed by a river running along the one side. I also knew that there was a range of tall mountains along the northern side, and a lower series of hills forming the southern edge of the valley, with a large dam at the top of the hills behind us.
As a result, I imagined that the sunrise would be glorious. I was looking forward to seeing the sun coming up at the eastern end of the valley and lighting up the mountains that I knew had to be there on the far side.
When the alarm went off, I got up rather sleepily, peered through the blinds at the heavy cloak of darkness outside, and promptly climbed back under the blankets.
“No sun,” I mumbled into my pillow, pulling the duvet up over my ears to keep in the warmth.
“’s dark out there. No sunrise. I’m not getting up either.”
By the time we did get up, there was enough light to see that a layer of clouds blanketed the entire valley while mists swirled around the higher peaks. Brrrr…
“Let’s hope that those clouds clear a bit, and that it’s not going to rain, or we won’t be able to go for a hike.”
The lush green lawns sloping down from the front of the cottage, to the edge of a dam, were covered in cobwebs, which had captured the dewdrops. Very pretty, don’t you think?
For a brief minute, I wondered whether these dozens of gossamer webs had been lovingly spun by one seriously hyperactive and extremely productive spider, or whether there were simply masses of spiders crawling about.
And then I cast that thought faaar from me, and focused on the prettiness of the dew drops instead.
Oh, and on these colourful autumn leaves.
Birdlife on the farm
While we had an ultra-healthy breakfast of muesli and fruit on the stoep, the birds were greeting the day with happy cries. And I was wishing I had a stronger zoom on my camera!
I think this black-and-white bird on the tree is a Common Fiscal (or Fiscal Shrike).
A golden Cape Weaver bird was checking out the residential potential of a nearby tree, occasionally emitting his funny swizzeling song to proclaim that it was “mine, mine, mine!”
A handsome Cape Robin was dashing about, pausing on the fence to look our way, as though he was asking whether we had any seeds for him to nibble.
And an African Darter perched high up in a tree on the far side of the dam, before launching cumbersomely into the air to the drumbeat of his large wings. Neck stretched out and wings spread wide, he glided effortlessly across the water, crying loudly…
As we were finishing breakfast, a young man wearing sensible wellington boots approached from the farm road below. He came squelching up the wet lawns towards us, and so we trotted down to introduce ourselves. It was Dion, our friendly host. He welcomed us to his farm, and we had a bit of a chat, about the water and the wood and the weather.
He also explained how we could get to the start of the two main hikes on his property.
A river ramble
“Right, let’s go, let’s go!”
We followed the farm road eastwards along a fence that enclosed a large field. The cottage next door to us was the substantially larger Fish Eagle Lodge. There was a couple staying there with a little baby; I guess they must have been the grandparents, as their adult offspring arrived later that day. At the next corner, we turned left past the Rose Cottage, and headed towards a massive gnarled pine tree.
Two horses were grazing in the field, right next to the barbed wire fence. They were curious enough to come over when we called to them, but stayed just outside the reach of our outstretched hands. The dark bay horse with the star on his forehead seemed the more approachable of the two, but he too didn’t let us stroke him. His face was covered in little scars. I wondered what had caused those.
The other horse, also a bay, had a white blaze on his face, and white socks on all four legs, and I thought he was utterly beautiful and wild, with his eyes showing a ring of white whenever I reached out to touch him. Why were they so skittish?
Our new friend, Toby the Dog
While I was still trying, fruitlessly, to make friends with the two horses, who had wandered off once they realised there were no carrots or other titbits forthcoming, Richard and Tanya had continued walking towards the gate beneath the huge conifer. All of a sudden, I noticed Tanya excitedly gesturing, and calling to something that was approaching at a gallop through the tall grass.
Of course, it had to be a dog. Wherever Tanya goes, dogs come running up to her to make friends. She’s like the pied piper of the canine world. I don’t know how she does it.
This one was a large dog, who was enraptured at having found three new playmates. He raced from one to the other, bouncing up and down, and wagging his tail with such vigour that he almost knocked himself off his feet. Finally, he sat down in front of Tanya, panting breathlessly with his mouth wide open in what was unmistakeably an ecstatic smile.
“So, are you coming with us on our hike?” she asked, leaning down to pat him.
His tail went into overdrive.
“I think that’s a yes.”
“In that case, what are we going to call him?”
After a few trials, we came up with Toby. So, Toby it was. Honestly, I don’t think he minded what we called him. He’d already decided to come with us regardless. And it was wonderful to share his company.
Most of the time, he trotted up ahead, sure that we were following him. From time to time, he disappeared into the bushes next to the path, the rustling of leaves and snapping of dry twigs signalling where he was. He stopped to look back whenever we dawdled too long (well, one of us had to keep taking photographs for the blog, you know), and occasionally ran back to brush against our legs or even to give our hands an affectionate little lick.
“Aah, I love you too, Toby.”
The river crossing
We went through the gate and walked down to the river. Someone, probably Dion, had thoughtfully constructed a make-shift bridge of large round river stones to allow us to cross to the far side, without having to take off our boots and brave the swirling icy water. As the stones were round, though, they were a little unstable, and kept wobbling underfoot with a hollow clunk, as they rubbed against adjacent rocks.
I never know whether it’s better to go slowly and to test the stability of the next stone before you put your weight on it, so that you don’t fall off, or whether it’s better to speed across, taking little fairy-like steps without putting your full weight on any of the stones, and risking a tumble that way? What do you think?
Toby decided to charge straight through the river and out on the other side, where he shook himself, showering drops in a wide circle. I guess it helps if you have several layers of insulating fur.
Once we’d crossed the stream, we turned left (downstream or westwards). Apparently, the path more or less followed the stream all the way down to the vast Buffeljagsdam just outside Swellendam. Dion had told us that there was a picnic spot at the side of the dam under some trees. So that was our destination.
Oooh, look! An artistically placed red leaf.
The first part of the hike took us through a patch of indigenous forest. We found ourselves handy walking sticks from among the scattered dead branches. The river was intermittently visible on our left. It was so peaceful here.
Occasionally, though, we were startled by a loud cracking sound coming from the direction of the river. People chopping wood? Large animals forcing their way through the dense undergrowth? There were strange barking sounds. Dogs? Surely not. Why would they make such a racket?
“Hey, Toby! Wait for me!”
Little ravines had been carved out by streams tumbling down the mountain; they were dry now, but whoever had made the path had also placed planks or tree stems across them so that we could cross safely in case there was water flowing down them. This was one such makeshift bridge. The photo is a little out of focus, because I literally went for a tumble down this slope the instant I clicked the shutter.
I thought I was walking on solid ground, when suddenly one leg just slid out from under me. I landed flat on my back, in that eerie kind of slow-motion that you sometimes experience when you take a tumble. Ooof!
Part of my mind was aware that I was still holding onto the camera, and that I wasn’t allowed to break my fall with my arms. I thus cradled the camera to my chest, as I landed, so it at least was safe! More winded than hurt and with my dignity no longer intact, I scrambled to my feet, wiped the mud off, and we all had a good giggle.
Then, unwittingly (I hope!) rubbing salt into the wounds of my ego, both Boetie and Sussie balanced across these rain-slippery logs with the supreme confidence and flawless balance of Olympic gymnasts.
I, meanwhile, was still trying to reconnect my feet to my brain, so I took the low road through the ravine. Here you can see Richard almost racing across the logs in a blur of speed.
Honestly, it’s enough to make one squirm with envy!
After about 1.5 km from the start, we reached a wire gate. We went through this, and closed it carefully behind us, in case any of Dion’s curious cattle might want to go for a bit of ramble. We had now left the forest behind us, and were on a slightly overgrown track across an almost level expanse of fynbos and bracken. On our right were the foothills of the mountains we had seen from our cottage.
The river was some distance away on our left, behind these ghostly trees without leaves. I guess it must be right where those dark green trees are. It didn’t look as though there were any paths down there, though, and we didn’t feel much like bundu-bashing.
About 500 m after the gate, we arrived at this sign. It’s very difficult to make out the text, but I think it says:
“Mountain Pools / Waterfalls – 15 mins”
“Buffeljagsdam / Baboon [?!] Kloof 35 mins”
“So, do we go up the mountain, or straight?”
We gazed around us. The path up looked rocky, steep and a little slippery. Waterfalls and rock pools are more tempting in summer than in winter. From what we could see, though, it was very pretty indeed, and well worth a visit, perhaps when it was a little drier.
“He’s gone straight.”
“OK, then we’ll go that way too.”
Straight ahead was an easy jeep track and/or mountain bike trail, which would take us to the Buffeljagsdam in about 2.5 km. However, our way was barred by a rather large puddle, which was clearly part of the stream tumbling down from the mountainside in a pretty series of waterfalls and rock pools.
Oh. Erm. “How do we get across this?”
Toby, of course, had splashed his way straight through the water to the far side. There he stood, looking at us with a puzzled expression, “Why aren’t you guys coming? Come on, it’s not that hard.”
Tanya’s shoes were already more than a little damp again, and our hiking boots weren’t all that waterproof either. In the end, we forced our way through some wet shrubs and clambered across some dry-ish grass hummocks, and reached the other side without getting our shoes wet.
The path led us on, and on, and on, through fynbos and bracken, the smooth foothills of the mountains rising up on our right. It was so quiet here. So tranquil. Birds singing and chirping. The wind gently rustling through the leaves. The lazy buzzing of a bumble bee. Ah… take a deep breath, it said.
Picnic at the Baboon Kloof
After a final stretch of forest, we arrived at the edge of the dam. We couldn’t see the whole of it from here, but we knew it extended far beyond, around the corner, so to speak.
We found ourselves a dry boulder to sit on, shared out some apples and energy bars, and watched Toby plunging into the dam. He walked through the water, snorting happily and trailing bubbles behind himself, before climbing back onto dry land.
“Uh-oh, he’s going to shake himself.”
And so he did. Vigorously! His thick coat stood upright, making him look particularly bushy. Good boy that he was, though, he kept enough of a distance not to spray us too.
He sat down politely between us, hoping that we might have packed a little treat for him too. Much to our regret (and his), we hadn’t. But then, we hadn’t known he’d be coming with us. He didn’t quite know what to make of the small piece of energy bar we apologetically offered him. Holding it carefully in his teeth, he ran off to bury it for later… or something…
Nonetheless, we were glad for his company, because we heard loud barking nearby.
“Are those dogs?” I asked, puzzled. “It doesn’t sound like dogs.”
“It’s baboons,” declared Tanya, the only regular hiker among us, with authority.
The baboons were clearly aware of us (we hadn’t exactly been tiptoeing through the woods), and their barking seemed to become louder, and more threatening. I was convinced they were sitting on the rocks high above us, and working up the courage to launch an attack. Richard, naturally fearless, picked up the camera to have a closer look.
“Oh, great. Just don’t get eaten, okay? We aren’t carrying you back in pieces…”
He walked between the edge of the water and the rock face, as far as he could go without falling into the water. There appeared to be a large kloof or ravine on the other side. Here’s a little glimpse of it.
“Is there a path down there?”
“Nope. Don’t think so.”
Well, at least we wouldn’t be marching any deeper into the baboons’ territory.
There were lots of aloes growing among the rocks. I wonder if they are Aloe arborescens?
And these bright pink flowers. I think they are Nerine angustifolia.
Very pretty, aren’t they?
Returning to the cottage
We returned home along the same route. In the forest, this little, well-camouflaged bird sat on a small branch right next to the path. He was about two metres away from us, sitting quietly on his branch, gazing at us curiously and fearlessly. I was so excited, that I couldn’t focus the camera! And I didn’t want to use the bright flash in his face. Which is why this picture is a little blurry. Sorry.
We strolled back across the fynbos field at a leisurely pace. I dawdled a bit to take some photos of the flora.
Here’s a close-up of Vlakte Heath (Erica coccinea), a-glistening with dew drops.
These bright pink Common Heath (Erica sparsa) were flowering prolifically among the various shades of green.
Wavy fronds next to the path.
We crossed over the large puddle beneath the waterfall.
In the indigenous forest beyond the little wire gate, we encountered a herd of cattle. One of them was standing right next to the path. She stopped foraging and gazed at us with a look of mild-mannered surprise, as we walked past. The undergrowth was dense here, with piles of dead branches scattered about, so I couldn’t see why they would prefer this inhospitable terrain to the lush green fields on the opposite side of the river. Most odd.
Toby clearly felt the same. He stopped dead in his tracks, and glared at her, his coat bristling slightly. After a breathless minute, the cow awkwardly leapt sideways, and trotted off to rejoin her companions.
We continued walking, the path taking us closer to the river for a short bit, before plunging into the forest once more. Idyllic.
A few minutes later, we had balanced over the bridge of rocks, and we were back at the large pine tree. Toby seemed to know that this was the end of the hike. He picked up a chunk of dried cow dung and played a crazy game of catch with it, tossing it in the air, leaping and jumping after it, catching it, bounding around us, spinning in a circle… He was like a young pup, who didn’t want the game to end.
Rather sadly, we said goodbye to him at the end of the farm track near Rose Cottage. I gave him an affectionate hug, despite his wet fur, and thanked him for protecting us from the wild baboons and the scary cows. He gave me a sorrowful look and stood gazing longingly after us, as we walked back to our cottage.
“Bye, Toby,” we called, “please come visit us again.”