“Help! Get them off me! Help!!”
I leapt to my feet, almost splashing hot tea over myself as I thrust the mug at Richard. He was staring at me in amazement, as I swatted and flicked frantically at my legs, dancing on the spot, and squirming desperately to check the backs of my legs as well.
“What on earth are you doing?” he asked, puzzled.
“TICKS! Frigging ticks!!!” I yelled, still swiping at my trousers.
He placed the mug carefully on the ground, out of harm’s way, and jumped up to help me. That’s when we noticed he also had a number of the nasty blighters on his legs. We must’ve walked through a nest of them! Thank the heavens, we were both wearing long pants instead of shorts. It took a while before we could settle down to finish our picnic.
“Brrrr”, I shuddered, chills running up and down my back, as I gulped a fresh mug of hot tea. We looked at each other and giggled helplessly, the shock finally wearing off. I couldn’t help glancing down at my trouser legs… wondering whether any had crawled underneath, or down into my socks, and whether they were now fastening themselves onto my skin, hungrily drinking my blood. “Brrrrr…”
On this glorious Saturday morning, we were walking along the western shore of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. We were halfway through our circular hike from the alarmingly named Gifkommetjie [Little Poisonous Bay] to Hoek van Bobbejaan [Baboon Corner], which was not a comfort-inspiring name either. I hoped we wouldn’t encounter large troops of baboons – as it was weekend, they might all be congregating around the tourist hotspots closer to Cape Point.
Gifkommetjie lies a couple of kilometres south of Olifantsbos Bay, where we had previously followed the Sirkelsvlei Trail and the Shipwreck Trail. From here, a circular route goes northwards to Hoek van Bobbejaan before curving back inland and returning to the starting point via a stony ridge across Kommetjieberg (at 114 m high, this is not much of a peak, so you don’t need mountain climbing gear ;-)).
Alternatively, if you prefer a one-way or there-and-back route, you can also follow the trail southwards from the parking lot, along a rocky shoreline, past Platboom and all the way down to the southernmost point of the Cape Peninsula and the southwestern-most point of Africa: the Cape of Good Hope. And if you still aren’t tired after all that walking across rocks and boulders, you can continue walking until you reach the old lighthouse.
We weren’t feeling quite that energetic, so we had opted for the circular walk. After sorting out the usual stuff at the beginning of a hike (smearing on sunscreen, putting on hats, fastening boots, checking camera, heaving on overloaded rucksack…), we were ready! The first part of the route took us southwards and downhill from Groot Blaauwberg (a mere 112 m high). Nice view down the handy wooden steps!
Finally, we stood at the shore – short stubby grass among sun-bleached white stones, and rocky boulders extending into the ocean. Not surprising that there have been so many shipwrecks here – in dense fog, at night, or in a storm, this must be tricky to navigate.
The path northwards from here was not always very clear. There seemed to be a lot of game trails, which joined up and divided, before petering out entirely. The dense undergrowth of fynbos and thickets made it impossible to attempt bundu-bashing our way inland, so we stayed close to the loose boulders. It was always a relief to come across a route marker or other indication that we were on the right track.
This pole, for instance, marked the intersection between the coastal path and the steep, stepped path that descended from the parking area at the top – it was such an important marker, that it even appeared on Peter Slingsby’s handy Map of Cape Point. I was rather puzzled by the configuration of these three wooden pieces: What had happened to the top end of the pole? Was there not supposed to be a sign up there? And what were those wooden slats for? And the rectangular wooden piece sticking out like this? Was it a mischievous hiker playing a joke? Your thoughts?
We followed an indistinct track back down to the shoreline. We hopped across a whole field of boulders, where we came across a damaged lobster pot (or crayfish trap), lying abandoned high up among the white boulders.
Thick rope was wrapped around the outside metal frame, and the mesh seemed to be made of netting. Unlike most lobster traps, which are divided into two parts, this one seemed to consist of three – with green netting funnelling the lobster (or crayfish) from the outside towards the central chamber inside. They are designed so cleverly that the crayfish climb inside them to reach the bait, but then cannot find the way out. Apparently they aren’t very efficient in practice, though, and many young crayfish do manage to crawl to safety. We wondered whether there was any illegal crayfish poaching going on along this shoreline.
It was lucky that we headed inland towards the thicket at this stage, because we suddenly picked up the proper path. I think it would’ve been almost impossible further on. The bushes were very dense all around, and sometimes grew above head-height, but the path through was very clearly defined. Having learned my lesson on previous hikes with spiders constructing their webs straight across such paths, I grabbed a loose stick to wave about in front of me, clearing the way.
As I was walking ahead, I kept an eye on the animal tracks in the fine white beach sand – we didn’t want to step on any snakes! We often came across these odd tracks, which looked like they’d been made by something with two pairs of feet, alternating left and right, but it wasn’t a buck or anything like that. I couldn’t be a snake, surely? Or a lizard?
As I knelt down for a closer inspection, I happened to glance to the left – and, much to my amazement, gazed straight at the owner of said tracks! In my eagerness to get a good ground-level shot, I overbalanced and landed in the soft sand… but I got the shot!
Don’t you think Mr Tortoise looks very cross? He stomped off, left-right-left-right, ducking into the surrounding undergrowth, determined to foil my attempts at another low-angle close-up shot. But at least the mystery of the tracks was solved!
A little further along the path, this tsongololo (an African word for millipede) was turning circles on the sand. We knelt to watch him: round-and-around-and-around-and-around he trotted, his outside legs working furiously to keep up. Not often having seen a tsongololo at such close quarters, we couldn’t decide whether this was normal behaviour, or whether his inner balance organs were malfunctioning. Or perhaps it was the red insect he was carrying on his back, which was short-circuiting his brain? Any ideas?
Suddenly, we arrived at an intersection. It looked like An Important Intersection.
“Um… This isn’t where I think we should be.”
“Let’s have a look at the map.”
Hm. We pored over the map, looking up and in all directions to get our bearings. How peculiar.
“I think we’re here,” I said, tapping my finger on a spot referred to on the map as “the point that is hard to find“.
But how did we get here? As the paths closer to the shore had been described on the map as “vague debatable paths“, I confess that I’d actually been following the footprints of a group of hikers, who must’ve walked this self-same path a little ahead of us; from their footprints, I guessed it was two adults and a younger person with smaller feet. So we had somehow gotten further inland than we should have. The track to the left was marked ‘Shipwreck’, referring to the two boats that hit the rocks here at Hoek van Bobbejaan, the Aggie in 1961 and the Phyllisia in 1968. The middle track was part of the overnight trail going vaguely north-east, and the third track, going vaguely south-east, led up onto a ridge.
“Right-i-o, we’ve come this far, we have to go down to see if we can find the shipwrecks.”
Luckily, the other three hikers had had the same intention, so we more or less followed their footprints along a maze of narrow sandy paths until we reached the ocean. And indeed! There on the sand in the distance were the three hikers! Two adults and one youngster. Wow… I’d guessed right. 🙂
On our right, we gazed longingly upon a long curving expanse of pristine white beach – but normal day hikers aren’t allowed to walk very far there, because it falls into the Restricted Area that is limited to hikers on the overnight trail.
Don’t believe me? Look, here’s even an old, rusty sign. 🙂
On our left were piles and piles of rocks and boulders, all the way down to the water’s edge. A motorboat was bobbing about in the water, surrounded by kelp… we didn’t have binoculars, so we couldn’t see what they were up to. They were most likely diving for lobster or crayfish. In the foreground is part of a ship. I don’t know which part. Or which ship. Sorry, I know that’s not particularly helpful.
It was too windy on the shore for a picnic, and the glare from the ocean was hurting the eyes, so we retraced our steps to The Point that is Hard to Find. Honestly, if we hadn’t been following our own footsteps back, I think this point would be hard to find. So it was just as well we’d come here from ‘the wrong side’.
From the intersection, our path climbed up onto a ridge. About halfway up, a stone sentinel looked westwards, across a fynbos covered plain down to the rocky shore at Oompiesgat (funny name, hey?). It seemed like a great spot for a picnic. While I continued climbing up to the top, from where we would have an even more glorious view, Richard thought he could see a faint path leading to the base of the stone sentinel. The need for shade from the glaring sun and shelter from the gusting wind outweighed the desire for a glorious view.
And that is how and why we ended up covered in ticks. See above. 😦
Apart from the ticks, however, this was a most pleasant picnic spot.
I wouldn’t recommend a repeat performance, though. When we returned to the main path, we carefully helped each other to remove a fresh group of ticks from our clothes. We had obviously walked through the same flipping nest again! A few choice expletives later, we were reasonably sure that all but the most miniscule ones (which honestly looked like reddish-brown poppy seeds, they were so small!) had been brushed off, and we vowed to be more careful in future not to brush against any bushes.
Honestly, I admit that it considerably reduced my enjoyment of the hike… luckily, I could distract myself with the camera, taking copious pictures of the scenery.
We passed this unusual rock-formation – this must be the ‘Balancing Rock’ mentioned on the map!
The path was well laid-out and well-maintained. I cannot imagine how many years of hard labour must have gone into creating these wonderful paths.
And I took loads of photos of plants.
Honestly, if the impressive and exhaustive Field Guide to Fynbos by John Manning, containing over 1100 photographs, was not so heavy, I would carry it around with me on these hikes. Trying to identify all these plants on the computer afterwards is almost impossible, particularly if you have very limited knowledge of the vast floral kingdom in South Africa.
I’d never seen this particular plant before – it looks like a parasite? It had completely covered some of the bushes on the ridge.
This is a close-up of the long intertwining strands with its miniature buds.
At last, we reached a sturdily built wooden viewing platform, mere metres away from the parking area. Behind me is the ridge of Kommetjieberg that we had just walked along.
“How ’bout tea and cake somewhere in Simon’s Town… I need to recover from that terrifying encounter with the ticks,” I suggested, hopefully. I need not have feared. My man was in agreement. Hence the big smile on my face!
And guess where we ended up? Yep, at “The Sweetest Thing Patisserie” in Simon’s Town Main Road. We had been there before (in 2008, after a brisk ramble along the Jager Walk in Fish Hoek, for which we rewarded ourselves with scones by the seaside, and again in 2010, after a cold, wet and windy hike near Jonkersdam).
This time ’round, as part of a New Year’s Resolution to cut down on the sweet stuff (siiiigggghhhh…..), we shared a slice of truly superlative and zesty lemon cheese cake.
Almost makes that terrifying encounter with the pesky ticks worthwhile. Almost, but not quite. One shouldn’t need an excuse to have lemon cheese cake.