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HIKE REPORTS

Swart Tobie Trail, 30th December 2008 to 5th January 2009

By Sue Ford

Hikers: Mary and Anthony, Ian and Ethnee, Brian and Sue, Karen Cousins, Marjolein, Geoff Barton, Tony, Juerg, Gail, Dolores, Thordis and visitors Charles, Ron, Alan, Dina and of course Peter.

19 of us met during the day of 30th December at our base for the first night of the trail, Boesmansgat, which is about 30minutes away from Lutzville. Barbara Khan had to unfortunately pull out at of the trail at the last minute so there was an opening which she kindly donated to Peter Petropulous, so there were 18 hikers and Peter was picked up daily with our luggage each day and transported to the next base.

The logistics of sorting everything into bags to be brought to the campsites from the farm base each day was a nightmare and in fact far harder than packing for a normal trail, when you carry everything yourself. But the farmer’s wife, Ronelle, was well organized and apart from 1 or 2 instances where we’d marked our bags incorrectly everything was delivered daily according to plan. Beers and wine were taken out of bags and kept cold for us and salads and fruit kept cool. Having cold water and drinks each day when we arrived hot and tired at each campsite, was most welcome.

The first 2 days are long beach walking days with the first being 23km and the next a bit shorter with early morning starts, which meant getting up by 5:30. Our first trail day was the last of 2008, but there were no volunteers to stay up until midnight so 2009 was seen in at 22:00 according to Juerg’s Swiss time! Luckily we had a breeze blowing on all 4 days, which was from the north and therefore on our backs and which in turn brought warmer currents into shore, so the water was warm enough to swim each day. The farmer, Wynand, had in fact told us before we left, to expect sea temperatures of close to 80C but thank goodness this was not so. These first 2 days were the toughest as the unbroken stretches of beaches were sometimes kilometres long. Even though, by absolute luck, we had the tides perfectly timed to be low tide at about lunchtime so we often had firm sand to walk on, it was still tough walking terrain. Sometimes we hit a stretch of mussel shells piled up on the beach to a height of almost 1,5 meters which was as bad as walking on soft sand.

At the end of these days when all you wanted to do was sit down with a cold beer, tents still had to be erected and camping gear sorted, the fire started and food and supper seen to.

No sleeping in either, as the farmer had 2 other groups on the trail at the same time as us so his schedule for the day was tight and he arrived between 6:30 and 7:00 so everything had to be ready by hen to pack into the 2 bakkies, together with Peter!

On day 3 the farmer’s son, Nicholas, hiked with us as there were some interesting things to see along the route. Although we had seen water pumping stations for diamond digging along the beach on the first 2 days there was more evidence of this on the 3rd day and we also came across a small one man band set-up on the beach, where Nicholas occasionally worked in his holidays. A bit further on we climbed 40 metres up a sand dune and then along a path to a fossilised mangrove swamp which is 150million years old. It seems wrong that a site like this is not somehow fenced off to save it from those who enjoy vandalizing the dunes, namely the 4x4 vehicles, scramblers and holiday makers who camp along this coastline. The colour of the sand on the 3rd and 4th days varied from normal white beaches, to black mineral, to those of large dark red deposits of Rutile. Mining equipment, which would normally be in use, but because of the time of the year was standing idle, littered the beaches and most of the beautiful coves we passed through had a boat of some sort anchored in the bay busy diving for diamonds. So there was no way we could forget that the area we were walking in was diamond rich. Unfortunately these rigs need to have access onto and from the beaches  to get their ore out for sorting so gravel roads have been made down to the beaches, which in turn the 4x4’s have full use of to destroy the beaches.

The farmer hiked with us on the 4th day, which was the most interesting day of all but was still a long 18km of beach walking. He just hiked in crocs but everyone in our group wore boots, apart from the last short 5th day, when 1 or 2 people who were suffering from blisters hiked in sandals. Wynand stopped repeatedly to tell us interesting facts and stories from the past about the areas we passed through, pointed out rock formations that had names and generally made this the best day of the trail for all of us. That night we camped along the Olifants river on the opposite side to Paapendorp and we were all alarmed when the newly built house right on the beach at the mouth, which we had passed to get to our site, seemed to go up in flames once it got dark. As we were camping in a cut-off area with no escape road, some of us were a bit alarmed at the situation especially if the wind came up, so Anthony phoned the emergency number to report the fire and to mention where we were. A group walked the 2 kms back to the mouth to see if they could assist the owners with evacuation, whilst the rest remained at the site and watched the flames get higher. Much to their horror the family were sitting in the house, with all the windows and doors closed with a raging fire outside – they were in fact burning the flotsam which had washed up on the beach around their house!

Karen told the owners in her own way (which wasn’t quietly!)  that we didn’t appreciate them starting  a fire without at least letting us know beforehand –they knew we were camping further along, as they had come past earlier to find out if we had seen their dogs.

The 5th day was previously another long day, but the farmer has now shortened it to about 8 kms, so we were at the end point by about 11:00 and were transported back to Boesmansgat in the bakkies. It was a hot, windless day and no-one was particularly upset at not having 20kms to face.

That night Wynand and Ronelle were the hosts and provided a braai for everyone with lamb chops, lovely salads and superb fresh farm bread. There was a freezer facility at the cave so everyone could enjoy cold drinks and beers with their meal. It was a great way to end a great trail.

For anyone who reads this and is thinking of doing the trail in the future, here are some useful tips:

  •  Make sure the tides are right as, even though the tide was either going out or just turning when we did it, the beach sand was still often very soft in places but at least it means that you don’t have to detour over the sand dunes to get past rocky outcrops along the beach.
  • Plan your meals per day carefully and put everything in clearly labelled bags, with surname and which day you need the bag for. 
  • Take adequate sun protection eg, hats, lots of blockout and long shirts if necessary, as it is VERY hot along this coastline.
  •  Wear comfortable boots as the days are long and if the sand is soft sandals don’t give enough support.
  • This is not an easy trail. Although the terrain is flat, it’s mainly beach walking apart from the occasional detour up the dunes when the beach was impassable, the distances are long and the pitching of tents late in the afternoon and packing up early in the morning can be exhausting, so you should be reasonably fit to do this trail.

The one big negative from this trail is the damage and pollution caused by 4x4 vehicles and their occupants and which they continue to do along this beautiful coastline. Their camping is not controlled, they can stop and litter wherever they want to and maybe something needs to be done about this. I thought they were banned from all beaches anyway?

Otter Trail (18-22/01/09)

By Alison Boshoff

Met up with group at Storms river mouth for start of trail. Discovered payment of R100 conservation fee if didn’t have valid wild card. Signed in and watched DVD of trail to excite one to the pleasures that lay ahead. Off & away with main achievement being adjustment to pack weight and staying upright on ones’ feet.  2nd day, hardest, with what seemed like almost vertical ascensions and rocky uneven descents. Arrived at Scott’s camp speechless with muscles stressed and complaining. 3rd day more relaxed with trail winding through indigenous forest and river crossings. 4th day, start at first light with 10km hike to Bloukrans river. Some scrambling required along rocky shore line. Descended to river mouth to meet with icy wind and very cold, rough sea.  Leader, Anthony only one brave enough to cross but group decision made to abandon sea crossing and take escape route. Disappointment all round, but not enough to spoil the riches of the rest of the trail. Picked up by wardens and taken from exit through to last hut (André) and thereafter unhurried start to last day with our final arrival at Nature’s valley. (What a wonderful site that was!)

Highlights:

  • Sleeping outdoors every night and relishing the unpolluted breezes.
  • Swimming in cold brown water pools – feeling the exhilaration of exercise and the tingly afterglow.
  • Kindness of new trail mates with the sharing of food when mine was stolen overnight by civet cat.
  • Viewing multiple birds and hearing their calls through the forest canopies. (Unfortunately no otters, whales or dolphins).
  • Feeling pleasure and gratitude in my health, physical & coping body as well as beauty of unspoiled surroundings.

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