South African hikes

The Cedarberg at the height of summer!


Wuppertal to Algeria


Friday 10 Dec - Sunday 11 Dec 1999


A couple of weeks before Xmas, 1999, I was in the Cedarberg with friends Ralph and Ron on a walk from Wuppertal to Algeria in temperatures of 40 degrees plus. This took us via Crystal Pools. We lost our way a bit on the first day by heading up Dassieboskloof river just beyond the quaint little eco-village known as Kleinvlei.  Having started late (we had drven through from Algeria), thereafter attempting to find an exit from the gorge in the baking midday sun, we literally cooked our goose!!  Drained of energy, we finally made it to the head of Vogelsang Valley at 7h30 that evening, without reaching our intended stopover of Swemgat. After preparing supper, we finally settled in to our sleeping bags under the starry sky and in a fairly strong, fresh breeze.

Arising at 5h00 the following morning, we warmed some water for a quick cup of tea before packing up and heading on, while the air was still cool. Within an hour we reached the T-junction nearby at Swemgat, bore left down through Englishman's gorge and its eerie landscape of amphitheatres and giant rock formations resembling castles, complete with gargoiles, faces that seemed to stare into oblivion or jump at you as soon as you were able to place some meaning or sense of recognition to the image. An hour and a half after starting, we made it to Crystal Pools after passing the hut up on the hillside, had breakfast and swam in the wonderfully pristine waters. By this time the sun was well and truly up. Thank heavens we were descending Groot Hartseer.

By the time we reached Grootlandsvlakte, we were well and truly exposed. The landscape quivered as the heat baked us mercilessly. We took shelter beneath every rock large enough to provide some shelter and shade. Then a strange thing happened, as I heard rumbling sounds and thought, at first, that it was an earth tremor. Then it seemed to occur with every stride and I thought, hey, I feel the earth move under my feet. I swung round, fully expecting to see rolling rock behing me. Instead, two rangers passed us on horseback. We drank regularly from our waterbottles, sweetened by the orange flavoured Isotonic Game powder we carried in large quantities.

We lunched under the oak trees at Middelburg huts and swam in the stream amid the frogs and the tadpoles. Lunch and tea tasted like a meal fit for a king. The descent into Algeria base camp took forever, the heat unbearable at times. We finally reached the waters below at about four in the afternoon. Though tough, it was a great hike and well worth it.


Ceder11112000StreamBelowGrootlandsvlakte.jpg (83130 bytes)

Invite a Finn but mind the weather!

Algeria - Grootlandsvlakte & back

Friday Nov 10 - Sunday 12 Nov 2000

Ceder11112000Twilight2.jpg (41194 bytes)

Ralph and I had not hiked in a while, both of us wrapped up in our daily routine, fed by the demands imposed by modern society. I had been pining for Englishman's Gorge since our last hike a year before.  Part of the problem had been that big Ron had been sucked into a liaison which, by his own admission, had resulted in his life having become "too organised".  Well, after Ralph convinced Ron that they should both join us on the hike, the man absconded at the eleventh hour.  Absolute heresy, I tell you!  It was then that the tale took a Nordic twist.  A message on my voice mail, deposited with such haste and accent that I failed, initially at least, to fathom out the precise nature of its contents, though the word "Algeria" and a cellphone number were discernable, caused me to investigate further.  As it turned out, we had been traced by a Finnish girl via our Algeria phone booking, who was desperately looking for a hiking party to latch on to, whilst not wishing to walk on her own.  That we were not a "mixed group" mattered not.

On the Friday after work, I fetched our flying Finn at the Metropole Hotel in Cape Town, en route to Stellenbosch.  I had planned to fetch my rucksack at Watty's place in Paarl, left there since our Kruger Hike, but we were running behind schedule. I had a an old down substitute sleeping bag which I figured would be sufficient. This I was to discover would turn out to be a costly error in judgement. The weather looked fine, so I also left my rain gear behind.  We drove up and soon engaged in conversation with our well-spoken Nordic guest, a pharmacist by trade, who, as it turned out, happened to be fluent in a number of languages.  Her rendition of a lilting Swedish monologue brought the house down!  We arrived after dark and immediately prepared dinner over the fire.  Sleeping outside seemed comfortable enough. Ralph took the back of the bakkie and our guest the tent.


 Ceder11112000Waterfall2.jpg (61628 bytes) Ceder11112000BeforeMiddelberg.jpg (80402 bytes) The following morning we left at about eight and headed up the winding path past the waterfall to the ridge above Middelberg.   It was humid and the going tough, our guest being unfamiliar with the conditions, though Ralph and I were hardly at our best either.  Yet we managed to pass a younger group of students en route.  The detour to the waterfall was a spectacular sight after the winter rains.  Much of the lush vegetation on the ridge had been destroyed by a recent fire.  We arrived at Middelberg hut, only to encounter a noisy group of kids from a scouting club in Cape Town.  Appalled at the lack of control by the scout masters, we enquired as to their destination. Upon learning that the two coincided, we inevitably had to alter our planned destination of Crystal Pools to avoid crossing paths later. 

Englishman's Gorge, still some distance beyond, seemed out of reach considering our slow progress.  We paused regularly.  My boots, long since due for a replacement, began to hurt my toes, which only served to dampen my enthusiasm.   Groot Hartseer seemed a daunting prospect under the circumstances.  We lunched at Cathedral Rock.  It was then that our priority on this walk was hastily revised.  We decided that there was no sense in "killing" ourselves in trying to reach Crystal Pools or wherever and that it made more sense finding a suitable spot to enjoy the magnificence of the wilderness surrounding us. 


Though we tried to find a spot near the stream just beyond Grootlandsvlakte into which Ralph submerged his entire torso, we retraced our steps back to a huge, solitary group of Cedarwood trees we'd seen earlier, located in the centre of the vast open plain.  Dried grass laid flat under the tree indicated that we were not the first to have used this as a means of shelter.  The pristine waters of a stream not even 20 metres off convinced us that we had made the right choice.  After a wash, we felt like a million bucks. Before dusk we were well into preparing dinner on Ralph's gas burner.   A breeze began to blow across the plains and we knew that the air would soon cool down after the sun had slipped beyond the ridge.  Wisps of cloud ominously rolled in from the west.

That night the landscape was bathed in the moonlight.  Not withstanding the fact that I also had the use of an inflatable mattress, my sides ached.   I did not wish to lie on my back for two reasons, the first being that I could not pull the sleeping bag over my head to protect my head from the cold.  The latter issue dealt with a rather sensitive matter described by the Oxford dictionary as "a hoarse grunting noise in breathing during sleep".  To make matters worse, it became heavily overcast during the night and by the early morning hours began to drizzle.  This inconvenience was obvious to all and sundry, hence Ralph's brusque pre-dawn utterance: "Luitenant"?  To those who know him well, the nature of this address implied that an appropriate response was palpable.  It is on hikes such as these that he is prone to nostalgic utterances reminiscent of his days in the army, hence the tendency to address friends by some or other military title.  I must confess I do not share the same sentiment.   No one budged, as the drizzle turned to rain.  Eric Burdon and the Animals once wrote a song: "We gotta get out of this place".   How appropriate on this occasion.

Ceder11112000Grootlandsvlakte3.jpg (45633 bytes) Ceder12112000LuitenantPiet.jpg (69679 bytes)


The weather eased off, for a while at least. We hastily prepared breakfast, packed and headed off in a south-easterly direction.  The return journey would take us on a meandering path via Uilsgat, ultimately leading down an extensive gorge with a sharp left turn, which reached the stopover at the Rondegat River near Uitkyk.   I rained continuously.  I cursed the fact that I had left my rain jacket back home.  I discarded my boots for my rock sandles for the last section along the river, back to Algeria.  As we got there, the heavens opened to a torrential thunder shower.   Soon we were in the showers.  Dressed and sporting fresh clothing, we headed back to Cape Town.  Brunch in Citrusdal and a hot cup of tea beckoned.  Despite the manageable discomfort, our new-found Nordic friend felt richer for the experience, notwithstanding the fact that she had no doubt experienced some true South African hospitality.  My pining for the isolation which the Cedarberg offers had been satisfied, for the time being at least.


[Home Page]

[South African adventures]

Links to other websites:

Cedarberg Trail - RPina