With Richard’s sister T, an avid hiker, visiting us last week, we thought we would treat her to a lovely hike in the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve outside Stellenbosch. We ourselves hadn’t done any hiking in a long time, and honestly felt a bit daunted by the prospect of a too-long trudge through the mountains and the veld. We decided to explore the Swartboskloof-Sosyskloof trail at Jonkershoek, which is described on the handy pamphlet and map as follows:
“This easy scenic route ascends along the western slopes of Swartboskloof for about 2km, passing through a patch of beautiful indigenous forest. It then traverses along a contour in Sosyskloof before winding back to the start.”
The distances available on this circular route were 5.3km (2 hours) or 6.9km (2.5 hours) for the longer route to the lookout hut. It sounded like a nice gentle way of getting back into hiking.
Unfortunately, we left home fairly late-ish, and thus only arrived at the entrance to the Reserve shortly before 10h00. From the entrance, a circular drive on a bumpy and narrow gravel road led us slowly to the start of this hiking trail.
It was already 10h30 by the time we had laced up our boots, put on our hats, and sloshed on copious amounts of sunscreen. Nonetheless, we were in good spirits, and looking forward to a picnic in the shade of the indigenous forest at the halfway mark before returning to our car.
Alas, the moderate and steady ascent up the side of the Swartboskloof in the baking heat completely sapped our strength. A too quick ascent at the beginning can quickly cause energy levels to flag, particularly when combined with tired muscles that aren’t used to hiking anymore, and lungs that are suddenly asked to process a bit more oxygen to fuel the legs. We thus took it fairly slow and steady, trying to enjoy the gorgeous views and the delight of spending time with loved ones in such a beautiful place.
But none of us could find our second wind, once the first surge of energy had been used up. In fact, things got progressively worse, as we ascended the side of the mountain. It certainly did not help that there was absolutely no shade! In fact, the rocks and the gravel beneath our feet seemed to have absorbed all the heat of the sun, and they were reflecting it back with all their might. The forest too seemed to be receding away from us up the mountain, and it looked like the path would only cross through it right at the very top.
Gasp, pant, wheeze!
Eventually, we came to a halt, sweaty and out of breath, and with our heart thumping loudly in our ears. Sister T and I collapsed on some rocks, sipping a bit of water and fanning ourselves with our hats, while Richard soldiered on, in an effort to see where the path was taking us, and how far we still had to go before the path curved into the forest itself. About 50 to 100 metres further up, he stopped to catch his breath. He seemed to be no closer to the forest at all.
The distance between us limited effective verbal communication, so we resorted to expressive hand and arm signals, with Richard appearing to say, “We’ll get to the forest eventually, we just have to keep going up!”
We replied, with as much vigour as we could muster, “Not a chance, we want to go back downhill!”
And so we did. Going down a gravelly slope when your knees and thighs are wobbling from tiredness and your head is starting to ache from heat exhaustion and dehydration, is not fun. It is easy to loose one’s footing on the slippery stones. And you constantly have to keep an eye out for snakes, particularly cobras, puffadders and berg adders, which are prevalent here.
Luckily, some kind and thoughtful spirit had left a wooden branch in the shape of a perfect walking stick at the board marking the start of the hike, and we had taken this along. I was grateful for the extra support it gave, particularly on the descent. And a slight breeze blowing from the front brought welcome relief from the relentless heat.
After some time, we reached a fork in the path, and followed the sound of splashing water to a pleasant picnic place on some rocks next to a tumbling mountain stream. We splashed our faces with the refreshingly cool water, and then sat down in the shade to share a couple of apples. Once we felt sufficiently reinvigorated, we returned to the main path and, with much cheerful singing of Happy Hiking Songs, trudged down the rest of the way to our car, which had been baking in the scorching sun. Thank goodness for functioning air-conditioning!
It took us about half an hour to follow the circular drive back to the entrance gate to the reserve. From there, we drove to the lovely Hillcrest Berry Farm on the Helshoogte Pass, where we had reserved a table for lunch. We sat on the patio, in the shade of large green umbrellas, and gazed out at the view beyond the flowering rose bushes, while little birds danced and tweeted, and dragonflies whirred past. It was the perfect setting for a delicious and light post-hike meal.
- Get up much earlier in the morning – it’s a long drive out to Jonkershoek from Cape Town.
- Try to make it to the entrance gate by 8am latest.
- And take along more water!