In July, we spent a weekend in the Riviersonderend mountains, staying in a little stone cottage at Onverwacht Flora, a mountain top farm near the famous Boesmanskloof trail between Greyton and McGregor.
This is Part V, and here are the links to the other parts:
- From Cape Town to Onverwacht (Part I)
- Exploring the surroundings of our Kliphuisie (Part II)
- A hike into the depths of the river valley (Part III)
- A visit to the peaceful Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary (Part IV)
A special sunrise
The morning of my birthday dawned bright and breathtakingly beautiful. We’d set the alarm to toss us out of bed before sunrise, because I wanted to greet the sun when it rose above the mountains in the north-east. I wanted to stand right at the top of the kopje, from where we had seen the sunset, and to draw the fire of its first rays of light into me.
It was still very chilly when we woke up. In fact, it was so cold inside the Kliphuisie, that our exhaled breath smoked. And the stone floor was icily cold. Yeeek! We quickly wrapped ourselves warmly in our anoraks, and walked up to the kopje behind our cottage, as the night sky faded into a beautiful, soft pre-dawn light.
This time, we followed the upper path to a white painted wooden bench, where we sat down to wait for the sunrise.
“Happy birthday,” called the sun cheerfully, as it peeked over the horizon, its sun-beams tickling our hair and caressing our faces.
We sat in companiable silence for a while, watching the golden light spreading slowly outwards and setting the surrounding hillsides ablaze. The long shadows of the hills and boulders gradually shortened, and the reflected light from the dams below flashed brightly, as they were hit by the sun’s rays.
“Happy birthday,” rumbled the rocks beneath my feet.
The bushes looked as though they were on fire, with the sun creating halos around them. The long branches of the burnt protea bushes cast long shadows, which crept almost imperceptibly across the stony ground, as the sun rose higher.
“Happy birthday!” chirruped the birds, excitedly flitting from one bush to another.
I closed my eyes, basking in the gentle light, letting it wash through me and around me… I just know it’s going to be an amazing year. Blissful sigh. 🙂
“Now how ’bout some brekkie?” suggested Richard, whose growling stomach was echoing my own.
Mountain top breakfast
We trudged back down to our cottage and quickly prepared two large bowls of muesli with chopped apples and bananas, and two steaming mugs of tea. We arranged two chairs and the small folding table outside, I added the glass with the white Blushing Bride proteas, and – with considerable difficulty because of the gusting wind – managed to light a candle.
“You can’t celebrate a birthday without a candle,” I declared, determinedly flicking yet another match and cupping my hand around the guttering flame. “Even if the wind keeps blowing it out!”
After breakfast, we tidied up the cottage and packed all our stuff for the trip home. Official check-out time was at 10h00, but as check-in time for the next guests was only at 14h00, we were hoping that we’d have a little leeway.
On our way home from the Donkey Sanctuary the previous evening, we had detoured past Sandra and Japie Oosthuizen’s farm, where we had formally introduced ourselves to Sandra and made friends with her friendly dogs and her very fluffy cat. We thought she might appreciate knowing exactly who was staying in her much-loved and clearly very special Kliphuisie! We’d had a lengthy chat, during the course of which she recommended that we go for a hike at Die Galg before we left on Sunday morning. And she had given me those two sprigs of ‘Blushing Bride’ protea, which beautified our cottage, and gave a final nice touch to my birthday breakfast! 🙂
Exploring Die Galg
We packed our little rucksack with snacks, water, spare jacket, plasters and sunscreen, and started to walk up the rough 4×4 track from the back of the Mountain Cottages, which we had walked up in the moonlight on our first night there.
We tramped across the ridge, past the water tanks, the road gradually descending and ascending.
After walking along the ridge for some time, we could see a farm just towards the north of the road. It looked like a protea plantation on the hillsides below us.
The 4×4 track descended steadily now, taking us straight towards the farm house. We waved cheerfully at the people standing outside, before turning left and following the dirt road towards the valley.
Just as I took this photo of the sign, a sunbird alighted on the corner. Perfect, isn’t it?! There were soooo many sunbirds and sugarbirds flitting around in this particular patch of fynbos. We hadn’t seen any in the river valley where we’d hiked yesterday, and even around the cottages there hadn’t been that many birds – it’s probably because so few flowering bushes have survived the fires. But give it a couple of months, or a year, and I’m sure that all the birds who are now clustered in one area, will spread out to the new flowers.
There were flowering proteas everywhere – and loads of these blue sugarbush proteas (or Protea neriifolia), which have a very soft, white-to-purple-black beard. This is probably why this particular area was home to so many birds.
Unfortunately, this was the last close-up zoomed-in photo I was able to take. Much to my frustration, the lens mechanism that extends and retracts the zoom seems to be damaged. I even struggled to get my little digital camera to start properly – never mind persuading it to perform such elaborate feats as zooming in to frame a shot perfectly! It kept beeping its ‘lens error’ message, with the lens making a horrible grinding sound, as it tried to retract and extend. She definitely needs to go to the Uncle Doctor. [And that is where I took her today. I feel so lost without her… :-(]
This board, which appears to have fallen down from its post, marks the start of the Boesmanskloof Hiking trail. The route descends steadily into the depths of the river valley, and then more or less follows a contour some distance above the river. The line up to which the wildfires had burnt was still clearly visible, and with the mountain slopes being so stark and barren, it again hammered home the point that fires in such a remote and relatively difficult to access area have a devastating and long-lasting impact.
We continued walking along the well-built jeep track, gradually heading towards a rocky outcrop, where it looked as though the road was either going to end, or descend sharply to the river valley below. We stood at the edge of the track and, looking north, gazed straight at a vertical wall of rock, with what seemed to be a long horizontal fracture running all the way across it into the distance.
“Is that a road?” I asked, puzzled.
“I think it is. I wish we could walk there,” sighed Richard, longingly. “Look, there’s even a retaining wall below the road.”
“I don’t think our road goes there,” I said, trying to remember what the terrain had looked like on Google Earth. “Our road seems to go straight ahead to those rocks.”
When we reached the cluster of rocks, however, we discovered to our delight, that a hairpin bend did indeed take us directly towards the road on the northern edge of the valley! Clearly, this had to be the road down to Greyton that the labourers had built sometime in the 1930s.
It was utterly breathtaking. The road had literally been cut into the side of the mountain, seeming to follow the natural line between geological layers in the rock. It was just a narrow gravel road, though, and in very bad shape, so it’s not surprising that vehicles are not allowed here. It would be far too dangerous. We walked until we reached a spot, where there must have been a rockslide quite recently, perhaps as a result of the fires destroying the vegetation that would otherwise stabilise the rocks above.
Unfortunately, there was a sheer drop on the side, that made my head spin.
“Okay, I think I’m going to sit down now,” I declared, finding a large and stable boulder to lean against, while my heart pounded in my ears.
“But the road continues, come on, let’s go right to the end…”
“You go,” I said, handing him the camera. “Take some pics, and come back, okay?”
Richard, who has a better head for heights than I do, effortlessly scrambled over the rocks, ignoring the precipice on the left. I didn’t even want to estimate how many metres it was down. I extracted an apple from the rucksack and waited for my head to clear.
I heard a faint cry, and looked across to the next ridge. Richard was standing right on the edge, waving at me with one hand and pointing the camera with the other. I got up and waved back, as he took this photo.
If you look really closely, you may be able to see me waving – I will zoom in for you. See?
And suddenly I realised that I was missing out on all the fun. So I started walking across to the ridge, where Richard was still scrambling up and down with the camera. And it wasn’t nearly as hard as it had looked! I just had to put one foot in front of the other, hold onto bushes where necessary, and not look down into the abyss.
And was it ever worth it!
We had reached a series of steps, which would ultimately take you all the way down into the river valley, to link up with the official Boesmanskloof Hiking Trail.
We lingered for a while in the silence of the mountains, before retracing our steps back along the precipice, around the hairpin bend, and past the farm house we had passed earlier. This did indeed look like a protea plantation.
And so many of the bushes were in flower! Aren’t these gorgeous?
We followed the broad dirt road until we reached the familiar turn-off to Onverwacht Flora.
From there it was a steady uphill slog along the single-lane farm track, the gravel crunching beneath our boots. We took turns pushing each other uphill.
We packed all our stuff into the car, and waved goodbye to our cosy Kliphuisie. And a mere couple of hours later, the mountains of Cape Town welcomed us back into their embrace. Although it was good to be home, we were already dreaming of another trip away. There are still sooo many places to see and visit!