Date: 28/29 November 2008
Present: EP, MB, PAM, GD, JW, EG, Dr Livingstone (PAM’s landy) aka Stanley
Groot Winterhoek Nature Reserve is a splendiferous reserve complete with Die Hel, the Western Cape’s 2nd largest and most beautiful rock pool. Planning took a few weeks and bookings were made in advance. The route is so popular at this time of year that we had to go on a Friday and Saturday instead of over a weekend. This meant we would all lose a day of leave, but in the end it was considered well worth it.
I arranged all the food and separated it out evenly at home to make sure everyone carried the same weight. We had three two man tents which we decided to carry seeing as it was only a 2 day hike and (supposedly) not too difficult.
Although the route was supposed to be well marked, I mapped the route on Google Earth and loaded a bunch of useful co-ordinates into my GPS in case of emergency. There were two geocaches I wanted to find too so loaded these as well and jotted down the clues.
The idea was to go the long way round on day 1 (about 27km) from the parking lot to De Tronk and the short route on day 2 (about 22km in total) from De Tronk to Die Hell and then back to the parking lot.
With all plans, gear and food organised, we were ready to start the adventure…
The plan was for MB to come to my place and from there we would go and pick up JW. We got to JW’s on time only to discover he had overslept. We sat and waited in the car for JW to quickly fill his pack and started taking bets as to what he would forget.
Once he had finally loaded into the car we started off to the rendezvous (the office). Luckily, everyone was slightly late and after handing out all the food, we packed Stanley, climbed in and we were on our way to Groot Winterhoek Nature Reserve. This is the point at which I realised I had forgotten my sunglasses (I know – I thought they were stuck to my head too!).
We stopped for a bathroom, coffee, smoke and breakfast break at a Wimpy at the Swartland One Stop (?) and I found a pair of sunnies in the little café for R100. Although the sunnies were not great quality, they were blue and so I figured couldn’t be too bad – I bought them and never looked back!
Once we were fed and bladders empty, we climbed back into Stanley and headed off towards the mountains and up the Dasklip Pass. About halfway up we stopped for yet another smoke and pee break (coffee goes straight through you!) and admired the view. It really is awesome to look down on the green belt from the pass.
Once back in Stanley and heading up the rest of the pass, the excitement was growing and you could really sense it when we saw the first signpost for the nature reserve and choruses of “Yes please” rang out from the front and back seats.
The road was dusty but soon the end was in sight. Stanley was kindly asked to wait in the parking area for us to return, you could just sense the disappointment seeing as the 4X4 track was closed due to the rains in the previous months.
While everyone else kitted up and did some final pack checking, I popped up a nearby rock formation in search of a geocache. I found it easily, signed the logbook and headed back to find the nearly ready. We all donned some sunscreen and, with map and GPS in pocket were ready to go! Just before leaving, I signed the registration book and we set off on our way. We started walking at about 0800.
We headed along the sandy path until our first waypoint where the path splits into the two main routes to De Tronk. We took the long route via Groot Kliphuis and headed off into the rocky landscape.
The weather was hot but we made good progress and after crossing a few small rivers and losing the path a few times (sometimes you just can’t see the cairns) we were soon in the heart of the reserve.
The rocks are magnificent! I had read an article on the hike and it mentioned Red Indian country – it certainly was.
We lost the path at some stage and ended up walking through a rather flood damaged river siding. After a while we decided to stop for a rest and something to snack on next to the river in some shade. We all relaxed in the shade of the rocks next to the babbling river and just took in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. There were a few mutterings at this stage about not having a path to follow from GD, who stated that there should be a mandatory clearing of 500mm on either side of the path, so EG and I set off to find the real path.
This turned out to be at the top of the valley in which we were walking and very clearly visible and laid out. It took a bit of effort to get up there with packs on but we all managed in the end and had a great path on which to walk once again.
There were a few moments in which the path disappeared but we decided that, seeing how well the path was marked and how clear it actually was, if it looked only vaguely like a path it is probably the wrong way. This logic actually worked and ensured that we always kept a look out for the best possible route.
We headed into an open valley area with very few large rock formations around us and on the other side of a small hill we found the path to Groot Kliphuis. We decided not to visit the Kliphuis and instead took the path to the right and on to De Tronk.
The path soon began to slope downhill and followed the contour of a mountain. The path was narrow and it was rather steep so when I lost my balance and started falling down the hill I ended up holding onto anything I could find. Luckily it was not too steep at that point and that lots of small trees were around to hold onto and a very kind rock was available to stop me going too far. The others had a good giggle, helped me back to my feet and off we went after a few more comments about decent clearance space on the sides of paths and the necessity to keep pushing branches out of the way.
Just to spite him, the path meandered through a large patch of Suikerbossies which were really overgrowing the path and made the going a little annoying. In the words of an old boss: “it builds character”! You could sense the energy level dropping and the chatting grow to a minimum but at about 1300 we came across a fantastic rest spot where a rock platform sat right next to the river. The river was deep enough to sit in and then we decided this was the ideal spot for lunch.
We took a dip in the cool river water, ate lunch and had a nice long rest next to this pristine spot. Lots of joking and smiling faces showed how rejuvenating the swim was.
GD’s back had taken quite a knock from his pack and left some nasty bruising on his lower back – but being the ex-navy boy that he is, he soldiered on and did not complain a bit.
The path went over a spur and soon the 4X4 track was visible. We followed the track to De Tronk going down a rather steep valley and up the other side – not great when your legs are tired – but we managed and it flattened out at the top.
De Tronk is an old farmhouse so called because it gets completely shut off when the rivers flood. We were actually supposed to stay further up the road but decided that the farmhouse was as good a place as any to camp outside of. JW and EG headed off to see what they could see while the rest of us lay around and cracked open a beer.
JW and EG came back and said there was a great campsite about 10 minutes walk up the road and that a nice group of 3 German tourists were there and welcomed us to join them. We put on our boots and off we went.
Upon arriving at the little campsite at about 1830, we found it to be ideal with a small river running through it offering water and a place to clean up and the three campers were very nice. We pitched the tents, got some water boiling and made some dinner (pasta and sauce and some soup). We chatted and had a few beers with dinner but it was rather cold and you could see that we were all tired after our long walk that day.
It got dark quickly and the stars were magnificent! I remember heading into the bush to spend a penny and just standing and staring at the stars for a long time. I hadn’t seen them so clearly since hiking in the Matopos as a scout in the 90’s.
I climbed into my sleeping bag in the tent at about 2030 or so and was asleep in seconds. The others stayed up doing their thing and sitting around the fire that the Germans had made and went to sleep later.
I woke at about 0720 the next morning and got some water boiling for tea and coffee. Once ready I woke the others and even gave MB some coffee in bed! Not even L gets that!!!!
We sat around and had breakfast (muesli and milk and some boiled eggs) and then got ready to head down to Die Hel at about 0930. We left our packs at the campsite as we would be returning that way and made out way down the well marked path. After a few km’s we came to the top of the gorge. What a beautiful sight!
The path dropped steeply down the side of the gorge and terminated on the rocks at the bottom but there was a geocache to be found on the way down and I handed PAM the GPS and told him to find it. He found it quickly and we logged the find in the logbook and PAM put in a box of Styvie Blues. EG nearly had heart failure when he saw this.
We continued down the gorge to the bottom where we climbed over the boulders to the large rock pool with the waterfall. This is Die Hel, the thing we went to find!
We spent an hour or so swimming in the perfectly clear but extremely deep rock pool and it was great! EG must have still been in shock over the cigarettes and managed to slip down between two rocks. We were ok though…
We headed back up the side of the gorge and back to the campsite to collect our packs. We dismantled the final tent, had some tea and were back on the path again at about 1145.
Upon leaving, the crowds arrived. A large group of people came walking down the path towards us. They had spent the night at De Tronk and were on their way down to Die Hel for the day. In my opinion, we were very lucky not to have stayed at De Tronk where we would have been bombarded by this large group and would not have had such a peaceful night.
We headed back along the 4X4 trail past De Tronk, down the river valley and up the other side until we came to the second bridge on the 4X4 trail. Just after this we turned right, off the road and along the foot path heading back to the car park.
The path followed the Klein Kliphuis River for most of the journey with the odd divergence around some rock formations. These were as beautiful as the ones on the first day. Unfortunately, the path was slightly overgrown and GD had quite a few comments regarding the 500mm clear space rule. When the path got muddy as well we all stopped and waited in a clearing to hear if any profanities were forthcoming.
It was decided that a rest was in order after walking about 6km or so. There was a particular spot I wanted to stop at but, seeing as we were tired and in need of a rest, we found a spot near the river and sat down.
JW went on ahead a bit further up the path and came back saying that there was a great spot a little further on. So we put on our bags and went there. This turned out to be the spot I was after! Who knew we were so close! It is a great spot and we had some lunch, took our boots off and relaxed. No one swam as the clouds had started to come over and the temperature was dropping a bit.
We left the spot at about 1500 and carried on back to the parking lot.
The path was well marked the entire way and you could tell why this route was the main one walked by most hikers. Although there were a few ups, the route was relatively easy compared to the first day and the pace was a lot quicker.
The weather started getting cold so we put on our jackets when we were about 2km from the parking. The sun was also well on its way down by this stage which did not help with the temperature.
We arrived back to find Stanley waiting patiently for us – very obedient! We put our packs in the back, trundled in and set off back to civilisation…