AFRICA reprise – Natal – 20th Oct 2018 – Day 37

My last day in SA is unlike the last day in 1981. How can one feel sad for leaving a place that no longer exists? No, SA was certainly not perfect then, but its worse now in so many ways. Every town, city, beach, road, business, is deteriorating like rust on steel. I have been told this by so many, I have seen it, experienced it. Its largely due to corruption at middle to high levels as the average person is still pleasant and helpful, the guards, parks rangers, waiters. Poverty is rife for everyone. Black and white guys make a living of sorts as unofficial parking attendants, or toilet cleaners, at fuel stations, or ‘guides’ in the airport for tips. Sad to see it.
Brian, Yvonne, & I had a late breakfast on the patio, watching the many birds attracted by Brian’s feeders, before leaving for Durban King Shaka airport. The highway makes it a quick easy 2hr drive across the rolling green hills of cane, bananas, and grass with the blue ocean, and waves crashing on the fine white sand to the right. The Mango checkin woman was surprised to see two of me on the flight ( I had 2 seats owing to my concern about 1 bag only).
OR Tambo airport is a maze of floors, ramps and gates which I found unclear. As I was early, I also had to find a seat away from the boarding lounge where I write this. Should board in 1.5hrs to arrive in Perth 9 hrs later.

Brian & Yvonne.s home


AFRICA reprise – Natal – 19th Oct 2018 – Day 36

Brian took me on a walk around this place. It has accommodation for 443 couples/singles, probably covering 2 hectares or more. It is steep though! We had lunch at the café, I updated this on the free wifi, and we drove to Uvongo and Shelly beaches to the north. The wind had picked up so the waves were huge and surfers were out, and fishers. At St Michaels I chatted to a photographer for a while, also a learner though she has sold a few requested images. Waves were crashing on the rocks, especially at ‘orange rocks’. Most beaches are at river mouths where the high sandbanks separate the sea from fresh water. I find that wave power fascinating – pity they are not at Perth due to the reef. 

My last decent sleep tonight before the 25 hr drive/fly/wait/fly to Perth followed by another 9hrs afternoon and evening before sleep again. The joys of flights.

Entrance to Café & Library

AFRICA reprise – Natal – 18th Oct 2018 – Day 35

I am impressed with the Retirement Village in which Brian and Yvonne live. Completely enclosed by security, on a very large area on the old sand dune hills, heavily gardened ie big trees, lawn, flowers, bushes, paths between 2-bed homes, some flats, a frail-care building, cafe for meals if wanted, a large library, post office, chapel, large pool. Its like a resort. Because of the hills, it can be a problem for some to walk it, but you are not in someones face either, in the separate homes.

We drove south stopping at various beaches, and a coffee farm/cafe for lunch. Brian bought a coffee anytime pass, so we could taste the 8 flavours they sell, some blended with Brazilian or Ugandan coffee. I had a ¼ cup of each and bought a packet of the mild blended coffee – the dark roast was just too strong and bitter. We also had a tour of the process, from the seed to the product. The ‘bean’ is actually a berry, a thin sweet external skin and flesh, covering the larger seed. When ripe, they are hand picked, run through a mill to separate the skin from the seed. That is dried (sun and in driers). The external is used for gin or composted. The seed is then roasted in a furnace; mild is less roasted.

The evening I drove 9km to Spurs; similar to any steak house with an American décor. 

AFRICA reprise – Natal – 17th Oct 2018 – Day 34

The weather had changed, clouds hung over the mountains, and then the rain started. I left at 7.50am, arriving in Margate about 3pm, Having stopped for some time, first at Winkelspruit, then Umtentwini.

Winkelspruit is significant as the place I went to with my parents as a 6-7 year old, where we stayed in a timber frame house on the hillside overlooking the river and sea. It may have been a lodging house, and I think the owners were friends. For a long time I thought the ‘winkel’ was referring to a sea urchin, only later that it means ‘store river’. Now its all flats.

It is also the place of our last holiday (July 80) before leaving for Australia. The sardine erun was on, a spectacle not seen as often now.

We had lost faith that the country could survive as a western nation, and considered Australia. On our last day I bought a newspaper to start the fire for a braai, read it first, and found an advert for a geologist on a tin mine in the Queensland Atherton Tablelands, a beautiful area, and decided to apply. That started the process for emigration. In December we attended the Australian Embassy in Pretoria, and by February had permanent residence status – unheard of today. I wrote to a contact in Brisbane, Tim Spencer, asking for addresses of mining businesses; he posted a long list. I found later that some were managed by the same office so they received several letters from me. At Easter I flew to Perth, stayed for two nights in the Grand Hotel opposite the Rail Station (now a backpackers) arriving at 4am. I was a wreck that day knocking on many doors, including Western Mining where I met with a geologist I had worked with at St Helena Gold Mine. He drove me around Perth, up to Kings Park, in a car with huge kangaroo bars, very common at the time. He had arranged a flight to Kalgoorlie for me, where I was met and driven to KambaldaThat was a very good team in those days, and I would have been better off there financially, than Tasmania, but I was keen to go where the rain fell, and there were forests, mountains, and rivers. That Thursday evening I was surprised to find the Hay Street mall busy. I remember speaking to an evangelist. I had booked to fly to Melbourne on Friday at 3pm, and only had time to visit Greenbushes Tin office – they were upset I had left so little time for them.

I expected to still have time in Melbourne to visit Electrolytic Zinc, but had not realised the distance and time change, arriving that evening. I rented a car and drove into the Dandenongs, spent time in the city, and the Botanic Garden, loving it all. Monday I went to EZ. Most of the interview was me asking for information, rather than the other way. At one interview I was told my gold experience would be best suited to the Victorian gold mines – I was unimpressed thing of very old mines rather than the State of Victoria! I flew on to Sydney, visited a few there, staying in a flat with a woman I had met somewhere I can not remember. It was the next weekend and we drove south to the Royal National Park, and north to the park there – it was all good, but the mines were of course inland. On to Tim in Brisbane, spoke to Mt Isa Mining, another great business, and finally to another geologist I worked with in Townsville. EZ called to say they had arranged a flight to Wynyard in Tasmania, and for a rental car to check Rosebery out. Looking on the map, I thought it would take an hour to drive – owing to the twists and the Hellyer gorge, that took 2 hours. I found people playing footie in a drizzle, walking in the street, as though rain didnt touch them! I met the team at Rosebery Mine, returned home and 6 weeks later were in Melbourne, Wednesday 6 June 1981.

Umtentwini beach was ‘our’ beach for several holidays. We would set the umbrellas up near the path through the high trees and sand dune vegetation from the car park, past the cafe, to the beach. The kids loved to swim there between the flags, or else in the sea pool further to the south. Today, the cafe is also a backpackers. We stayed in thatched square rooms (I thought they were round till recently) in a park-like area called Eden Park. The town has retained most of the natural vegetation, including the big trees. The rooms are now privately owned as homes. We loved the area so bought a block on Lugg Ave, only reselling after leaving SA, enabling us to buy a block in Tasmania.

AFRICA reprise – Royal Natal National Park – 16th Oct 2018 – Day 33

I had no intention of an early start – just as well as the clouds and mist was low. I was unsure what to do, having accomplished all I intended here yesterday, apart for the ambitious planned drive and walk to the Sentinel peak. A model in the Visitor Centre shows the truth of it, not an easy trek. However the weather was improving, David and Ailine were considering the gorge walk, and I still had the Thendele camp shot to do. I saw them off at the car park with some concern. David would go to the end as usual, and he was very unprepared. Ailine would walk slowly, with limited water and biscuits like I did. With two cameras!.

I drove back to the Centre, and decided to walk the Tiger Falls, Lookout, and Cascade, as the Lion walk looked too boring in the open. I was informed by a park guide that it was best to go up on the Tiger side, returning on the steep Cascades side. Good plan as the Tiger is slow and steady with some steps, but the Cascade is so steep that a ribbed concrete path was constructed a long time back. Hard to come down, but very tough going up. Both ends start at the Mahai parking area. It is a good walk, should take 2 hours, but I stopped several times to chat, and have lunch (limited again as there was nothing in the Centre). About 3.5 hrs. Tiger Falls is in a small patch of rainforest in a ravine; more a fast drizzle today than a fall. I had a chat to two older white women in the shade, waiting for the husbands to show up. I was asked about the Karroo sandstone here which gave me a chance to mention the Creationist view. They were also uncomfortable when I told them I was staying at the black run B&B. This is near the high point so it was all down from here. The Lookout rock certainly provides a very long view down this valley – I would guess at least 70km, while the sandstone cliffs rise up behind and to the side. As I sat having lunch, I wrote “1pm. I’m sitting at the top of the tiger falls track looking down the long green valley of rolling hills, and deep rain forest ravines of rushing streams. The only sound I hear is the cascading water carried up here on the cool breeze. An occasional bird calls. I feel the cool breeze and hot sun. It’s worth the 6km hike.” It is a pretty area.

I descended the steep concrete track to the cascades, not large today but sufficient for a good image, especially with the red stained cliffs of Plowman’s Kop soaring above. The track is easy after that, much is wheel chair friendly. I emailed Ailine who replied she was back at her car, dead tired, having almost accomplished what I did. But David was not back. It was now 4pm so we were worried. Many had returned, none had seen him. When the last couple came out, they said the same. I was ‘home’ by then, and finally met the old lady owner, hunched over her sticks, who kindly assured me that David would be out ok. I drove back, asking at the gate what the procedure was in case he didn’t get out. They provided phone numbers and said the gate would be kept open for us. I found Ailine still waiting alone ie no guard and no cars. She had already called the numbers here at the track start, being told to wait for nightfall. I talked to distract us – and then David called. Reception is poor to none on the track. He was 30 mins away, which became 45 before he was out. At 6.30 the Park guy called to ask whether David was out. I am reassured by their competence. David had gone to the tunnel end, in a difficult poorly marked slippery boulder area. He has hurt a knee, and his ankle, which slowed him down. (Later I discovered he also had a bad cut on the buttock which became infected.)

Dinner was late but good, at their lodging again. And that’s it for the holiday.

AFRICA reprise – Royal Natal National Park – 15th Oct 2018 – Day 32

I survived. And the photo is great – I think so anyway.

I was up at 5.30 and into the park as the gate opens at 5. I was keen to get 4 particular shots someone had put on the web. As he wrote, the first lookout (Thendele Lookout) just above the Visitor Centre is overgrown and only glimpse is possible, but a good Village View can be found before it. The RNNP Dam reflection was outstanding as there was almost no wind as I arrived, but picked up after 10 mins. With the east sun shining on the Amphitheatre on a very clear morning – well it could not be better. Next was the Tugela River shot in the water on the boulders. I don’t have his afternoon cloud reflection but it is still good. I had arranged for breakfast (and very good too, the full deal) at 7 so I hurried back the 10 minutes, and then came back for more of the same in case I could improve them. I didnt have time to shoot the 4th image (Thendele Camp Lookout) as I intended to walk as much as possible of the Gorge Track.

“There is no more popular nor picturesque walk than the Gorge walk; it should not be missed, and to enable you to make the most of the trip, take a full day over it. For the first 6,5 kilometres beyond the foot of Thendele hill there is a very good path and no steep climb. No special directions are really needed. The path winds along, above and parallel with the Tugela river. Not long after crossing the intersection stream from Devil’s Hoek, look out for the Policeman’s Helmet on the high ground to the right overlooking Vemvaan Valley. The last 1 600 metres through the Gorge entails three crossings of the river (simple enough unless in flood). Many visitors to the Gorge turn back at the first crossing. This is a pity, as the most picturesque scenery at Royal Natal lies at the far end, and walking the additional 600 metres is rewarding. Cross the stream and re-cross, keeping to the path which is on the right-hand side of the Gorge, and keep on until you reach the chain ladder on the cliff on the right-hand side. The chain ladder is at the mouth of the tunnel. This tunnel is approximately 55 -65 metres long. Use the chain ladder to skirt the tunnel or scramble through the tunnel, though a ducking is likely, and so get into the Amphitheatre. Boulder-hop up the Tugela for about 800 metres, where each few metres gives you a complete change of scenery. A steep path up the left-hand bank of the Eastern Buttress Gully leads to the Tunnel Cave. If you stand with your back to the chain ladder, this path will be directly in front of you. From the cave there is a wonderful view of the Amphitheatre wall, with the Sentinel on your right, and you will be able to look over the Tunnel. If you proceed around the cave you will obtain an excellent view down the valley towards the hotel. Warning: keep a lookout for thunderstorms, as a heavy storm may bring down the river and delay your return trip by a few hours. The best spot to picnic is at the end of the path, (11 km : 3 hours). (Whole trip 22,5 km : 5 hours 30 minutes).”

He makes sound easy – it is not. It is almost constantly uphill, sometimes steady, but often up rough steps of stone or poles. It is completely in the open, only ducking into snatches of rain forest in the ravines; the contrast in temperature is surprising. Birds hide here but all one hears on the open area is your laboured breathing. I considered turning back many times, but set a time limit – 3 hrs in and 2 back starting at 10am. I managed to get to the first Tugela crossing – as he writes. I was not well prepared as the visitor centre near the gate was closed on my initial pass, and I didn’t think they would have much (correctly as I saw the next day). I had muesli, a tangerine, and a flask of water. About half way I saw in the high distance, people on a white lookout rock. I could not believe it was still so far to go, but I did get there – its about 20 mins before the 1st crossing. I took many shots but have yet to check them. I was back as planned, but dead tired. The last 30 mins were a matter of just moving as my legs and hips are not what they were! Looking back, it was an achievement, but not one I want to repeat.

There is no store or food place anywhere near the B&B, but David and Ailine are at Berghouse 9km away plus 5 on the worst dirt road high on a hillside. Ailine was shooting the sunset from there, repeating what I saw last night. The place prepares meals on order. I was uncomfortable driving back in the dark past the small homes of the Black people.

Royal Natal National Park Dam
Tugela River

AFRICA reprise The Western Cape – Port Elizabeth – 14th Oct 2018 – Day 31

Lemon Tree is a very upmarket B&B, well appointed rooms, antique furnisher, a large dining room leading onto a veranda, pool and colourful garden on one side. The rooms are accessed by a similar but narrow path from the gate down the other side, leading into a small courtyard filled with pot plants, a central bushy vine and 4 rooms. Other rooms are in the house, and at the front are two one above the other. The top is accessed by an external stair. All very tastefully done, BUT every house in this upmarket area is security fenced. The owner is very concerned about the future as it is quite possible she could lose the house in a ‘take-over’, as happened to the yacht club having to move next door to become the fishermans club.

We had an excellent breakfast, left leisurely for the airport, queued, and then were informed the flight had been cancelled last May, before the booking was made. How is that possible? The flight appears sometimes on t he SAA web too!! We were given the option to fly to Joburg, wait, then to Durban, arriving 5.30pm, far too late to then drive to the Drakensberg. At that point the BA desk opened, so David bought tickets for that – fortunately seats were available. We arrived in Durban 1 hr later than planned, which made me nervous as the B&B I have booked is in a Black housing area (Bonjaneni) from what I see on Google, but it is the nearest place to Royal Natal National Park. The Park was already booked out when I tried.

No one seems to stick to the speed limits though David was booked last time. I had a 3.5hr drive, leaving at 3, so I didnt spare the little Hyundi. As dusk fell just short of Bergville, I had to stop for a shot. The Drakensberg were dark blue in silhouette against a blue to pink sky, with lower ranges in paler blue and a valley in front. I couldn’t stop at the best spot and I have yet to see the image on the pc.

I finally arrived here (Tugela Falls B&B) at 7, having lost time in Bergville to grab a Kentucky burger, and then find this place in the dark. I missed the sign in the dark concentrating on many people on the narrow road, and relying on the GPS, not entirely wise.

As expected, this is owned by locals – full marks for being first (?) to run a B&B. I will see how it goes, but at the price R350 ($35 per night) one can’t expect much. No internet. A row of good size rooms, a decent bed and linen, tea/coffee/fridge, ensuite. The building has been built by amateurs but is clean and serviceable. The dining area looked ok when I arrived. The young woman who met me was pleasant, and assured me with a smile that I will be safe – and anyway there is a guard next door!

Hope to survive the night…..

Note: photos added in 2020.

Africa Dreaming

AFRICA reprise The Eastern Cape – 13th Oct 2018 – Day 30

The Tsitsikamma Park is my favourite place in the world, though Lord Howe Island is a close second. It is ‘just a beach to some but for me there is the history mentioned before. It has magic. The cabins and Park office huddled against the fynbos covered cliff, the sound of skiet rok (shooting rock) where the ocean continues to throw it’s fury, the pathways in the dense underbrush in the gulleys and slopes, hidden tunnels of green safety, and the sea mist hanging over it all. This place is alive. It breathes. I can feel the seas power here like no other place.

Ailine was keen to be down on the beach for sunrise. The web had 6am as gate opening, so we were there, but it has changed, to 7am. David tried a track but that was blocked so we returned for the excellent breakfast.

I had four main things to cover; walk to the swing bridge over Storms river, walk the short blue duiker trail, watch skiet rok, and walk some of the Otter trail.

The bridge walk is fairly strenuous, and about 1km long, Most is on board walk, but it is up and down along the cliff edge. The bridge is substantial, now part of the Dolphin trail to the west. We saw a blue duiker nibbling leaves, not a usual sight. I crossed to the bay on the west side watching the waves crash on a shore littered with pebbles, boulders, twigs and sticks. But bus loads of people arrived disturbing the peace as they rushed for the selfies before moving to the next view in their limited time. I later counted 10 busses and 500 people at least. The restaurant burned down and has been replaced with a marquee on the rocks very close to skiet rok. Some pollution was evident behind it too. However Ailine and I spent a lot of time shooting the wall of water coursing over the rock, a difficult thing to do as the big waves are infrequent and easily missed. In the mid 90’s visitors were few, perhaps 20 at any time. The jagged slate sheets provided shelter for a variety of aquatic life – what remains is a mere shadow.

To get away from the crowd, I climbed the blue duiker trail to the cliff top, through the tunnel of green trees on the edge, up timber steps or rocks, emerging into the sunshine in the 2m high fynbos. Flowers were not abundant as they were on our visit in the 80’s, but still good to see. Here one only hears the sea roar and the wind swish, or a bird twitter.

We had lunch at the marquee, then David and I started on the original Otter trail, now the waterfall Day walk. The start of the Otter is now near the entry gate. The fall is said to be 3km taking 3 hrs return. We started but David ran ahead while I savoured the walk slowly (legs still feeling the climb two days back) till I reached a long section of boulder hopping. I cannot believe we crossed that so long ago with four kids and packs. I doubt I could do it now. David returned, 45min each way.

We left at 4, stopped at the Storms River motor bridge (1954), where two Swiss girls asked for a lift to PE. Lemon Tree Lodge suggested a place next to the yacht club for a meal. We found it with some difficulty in the harbour – a dodgy area. The place is a fishermans ‘club’; it was very rowdy but the food was cheap and good served by an energetic articulate Xhosa. An interesting place reminding me of ‘The Great Gatsby’, a people trying to forget the situation they are in. On the street at the traffic lights was a white man about 28 begging in the strong cold wind. Not the first we saw, Every house in the up-market area around Lemon Tree has a high wall and electric fencing. The owner spoke of her concern for the future, as this city has a strong black presence. Many names of streets and venues have been changed – the Bay is now Nelson Mandela Bay, not Algoa.  Grahamstown is no longer. Businesses have been expropriated. The owner here has a beautiful large home/B&B, in a posh area, but could it all be lost? In contrast, we have met many who are pleasant and helpful even the watchmen at night. The Xhosa guy at the 1820 Monument stated the obvious when I queried about his feeling in a building commemorating an invasion from his perspective – “we cannot change history, we must learn from it”. I fear he may be  outnumbered, certainly out voted, by those whose desire is to gather power by encouraging the masses to do as they please. The rural towns are still in good shape, but the cities are lost.

Blue duiker

Swing Bridge

Skiet Rok

Boulders on Otter Trail

AFRICA reprise The Western Cape, Grahamstown – 12th Oct 2018 – Day 29

It rained heavily; the forecast was for more but clear tomorrow. I would walk in the rain but Ailine and David were not keen, instead opting to drive to Grahamstown to free up tomorrow. I agreed as it was only 170km according to David. Once on the road I saw that was to PE with a further 130 to Grahamstown. We were committed by then and it made sense in a way.

The only interest in this rural farming area are the amazing lush green paddocks.

Grahamstown is of interest to me for several reasons. It’s one of the first towns settled by UK immigrants in 1810, before the main party in 1820, my father’s forebears. A monument and Art Centre was built in 1964/68 overlooking the city to commemorate the event. My 1st year University was here at Rhodes, our 1st year of marriage, and the birth of Karen. We visited all the places that held significance for me.

The Settlers in the UK were encouraged to emigrate  with fables about the wonderful pastures and climate but found Algoa Bay (Port Elizabeth) uninviting. A sand, mud and rocky place on the edge of a wild windy almost treeless bay. The land was infertile, and hard. Only the Coega river ameliorated the tough life ahead. People had brought inappropriate flat packed timber homes and furnishings like pianos. And while the native Xhosa were initially friendly, battles broke out over cattle and grazing rights leading later to frontier wars. Nature in the form of elephants, leopards, baboons and other wildlife were also a problem.

First stop was the Settlers building overlooking the city. On my visit in 1987 we bought prints of paintings by those people, so I expected more than we found. The building is more an arts centre and theatre; Settler information was nowhere to be seen. We were guided through it for 15 minutes by the informative reception guy.

I attended Rhodes in 1965, travelling from the mine in Mashaba in Rhodesia with Phil from Gatooma who studying for ministry. We had a stopover in Jo’burg with my sister to break the long two day journey (2000km). I have no idea how I found Phil, nor where I stayed the first few nights in Grahamstown. I registered for Geology with the other hundreds of students in the intimidating main entry hall through the arch off High Street. Queues formed in front of labelled tables for the various faculties; ‘Arts’ ‘Science etc. My turn came: ’‘What are you registering for?” “Geology Sir”  “So you will also do Chemistry, Physics, and Maths – Next!’

I searched the notice boards and Town Hall for a room and eventually found a dark front room in a small Railway house at the opposite end of the High Street from the Uni (no longer there). The couple were good to me; one Saturday we drove down to Kowie (Port Alfred). On my 15 minute walk to lectures I noticed an Indian guy just a block away also going so we would chat on the way. It was unusual for an Indian to attend a European Uni and I thought the apartheid very wrong.

Hilary came down about two months later, but the accommodation was clearly unsuitable. By this time I was in need of a haircut and persuaded Hilary to do it, but a blunt scissors is not sufficient; the result was embarrassing. On Monday I crept up High Street to a barber near the Cathedral who had to do a very short cut.

I enquired again about a room and discovered Vicky’s advert on a Uni board. A junior lecturer, she and a tall pom had bought an old 5-bed house at 20 Francis Street and were letting 3 rooms. Two were already taken so we were left with the large extension room on the left side. It was probably a dining or living room and we loved it. A yellow timber floor, high ceiling, a door off the front veranda, and tall sash windows on all three external walls. In contrast to the current dark room, this was filled with light. Rent was more than for the other rooms and we had to furnish it. A bed of course and colourful curtains, which Hilary made using a borrowed machine. All six of us shared the kitchen and bathroom. The railway passed about 3m behind but we became used to it. We saw the house on a visit  in 1988 and it was still a student home, but today it looks like a family home with a playground and garage.

Vicky was a very nice woman, about 30. The other front room was occupied by the tall pom. His fees were paid by the Zambian government as he was a policeman. He even had all his gear including a rifle. Another we called the mad bomber as he was very left, studying Arts of course. The last was a studious quiet woman from Wellington near Cape Town. Across the road in a small house on the edge of a school playing field lived a single woman with kids. She had a few chooks and a rooster. Towards the end of year exams, the pom found the crowing too much so one afternoon he shot at the bird, watched by us from our door. He missed and we hastily hid in our rooms. A few minutes later we heard a knock on the door. Our pom played the innocent ‘A shot! At your rooster! No I’ve been studying. Didnt hear a thing’. We could hardly contain ourselves. The pom moved to temporary rooms at the uni.

Daughter Karen’s home-coming could have been a disaster; instead it was welcomed by all. Vicky took many photos, the mad bomber babysat, the pom took a mild interest, and the student helped as she found time. It was a difficult year but memorable. I am grateful to those four and wish we could catch up.

We returned to Rhodesia with Phil in his little mini. He rigged a rope under the boot lid tied to holes in the roof gutters as support for several cases including a steel trunk stacked on it to window height!  Hilary and I could hardly move we were so tightly packed. And Karen slept most of the time in her carrycot on top of packs next to Hilary on the back seat. It was the day of Ian Smith’s Declaration of Independence in Rhodesia  – but that’s another story. I walked alone into the great intimidating hall, then through the arch, down the main street past the cathedral and Town Hall, ending at a building in which we considered renting before 20 Francis. The room is upstairs, a roughly enclosed veranda, draughty and not weather tight. It was disappointing to see how dirty and run-down so much is.

AFRICA reprise The Western Cape, Tsitsikamma – 11th Oct 2018 – Day 28

The weather has changed, become cloudy, and tomorrow will be rainy, so we agreed to spend today ‘on the top’ and tomorrow’ down the bottom ie in the Park.

The top involves some dodgy driving, planned months back. My intention was to at least photograph the Bloukraans River mouth. This place is where a significant family event took place in about 1976-8, when we ie Hilary, and the four girls, walked the Otter Trail, a 50km trail along the coast, across river mouths (the Kleinbos, Elandsbos, Bloukrans, & Groot Rivier), on the rocks and in the rain forest on the edge of the cliffs facing the Indian Ocean. It can only be walked from east to west (from the Park Office to Natures Valley, and walkers should keep to the stages between rude log shelters. The stages vary from 8km to 15km per day. We were naive, and not prepared as well as we should, having never walked a trail before. The trail must be booked a year ahead as it is so popular and restricted to 10 per day (or was in 1976/8). As a result one meets no one for 5 days. One cannot cross the Bloukrans at high tide so it is necessary to plan for a low tide crossing. As I recall, we understood that it is possible to cross on several hours either side of the tide change, so we planned to cross at mid-tide about 4-5pm leaving us sufficient time to walk the 20 minutes to the next shelter before dark. We arrived on time to find the waves rolling in over the sandbank, too high for the girls especially, and for me who would have to take each across and throw them the last 2 metres across the deep channel against the far side rocks. So we sat waiting for the tide to go out, becoming more concerned as the weather changed as it did today. The clouds covered the moon. I kept testing the water, and decided we would have to try at 7.30, as I was unsure when the tide would start to rise again. I was very unsure of the situation, so we all prayed for help in the crossing, then walked into the water. It did not part but the clouds did, allowing the moonlight to peep out as we walked the 50cm deep water on the sandbank. Hilary crossed first, swimming the 3m strong stream to reach the rocks on the other side. I threw the bags over standing on the edge of the channel up to my waist, then each girl went across with a push from me, and lastly myself. At that moment Hilary asked “Whats in the water?” I turned around and there they were – the otters, which are seldom seen! And with that, the clouds moved over the moon again. Coincidence? Dont think so.

We still had a way to walk to the next shelter, but the rain held off. Hilary had good night vision so she led and we kept a good pace when she suddenly stopped, looked right, and said ‘Is that the hut?’ It was. We were dead tired, it was late, but we were under a roof – and the rain fell.

So today we drove to the east of the Bloukrans through the toll, then down the old road to the Forest Station, where we asked permission to travel into the forest plantation as no entry signs proliferate at the entry points. The process is simple – a self check-in of a form at the gate. David drove us to a point on the bluff as near as possible to the river mouth, but it was not possible to walk through the thick fynbos scrub. So we decided to try on the east side, a longer more complex route, from the Coldstream logging camp. The no entry signs were up here, and no self check-in, so we were a little concerned. The tracks are for logging so are rough, but we eventually made it to the point where the emergency track to the river mouth starts, having past forestry people. I couldn’t wait to go down, but it is very steep, the steps are often almost vertical (logs pinned to the ground). The tide was coming in, the clouds were dark, just as they were so long ago. I was grateful as a hot sun would have made the climb out even tougher – I had to stop several times to recover. But there it was, the rocks and sand where we crossed, the deep tannin-stained water meeting the incoming sea. I spent 30 minutes on the beach before climbing out. There is now a board detailing three possible crossing points dependant on the water level, though I would not have liked the other two that night either – they are not easy along the vertical cliff face on the west side.

We found a short way out to the highway, and then to the old road  bridge across the Groot Rivier, where my stepmother leaned on the rail and I took a photo with the old 127 Brownie box camera. The short walk into the forest is delightful – the only sound the birds and water. On the way out I met a couple celebrating their 50th wedding day, by travelling this area where they once lived. They too are Christian (Brethren in the past) and have similar fears for the future. Lunch at the cute Crags Farm, above Natures Valley, returning to the Big Tree (it is) near Storms River. We crossed the high Storms River bridge (bungee possible here) to another track to find the spot overlooking the Storms River Park Office and accommodation on the beach, from the west. (If I had looked at the maps I have, I would have seen it marked as ‘Look out’! We drove there from the town but found a shorter way back. The lookout offers a full view of the Park Office area, and a foot track leads down to it now. Several people came up while we were there. The east wind was very strong , standing on the platform. A crew were pinning a satellite dish to the ground in preparation for the Otter Trail Run within the next 2 weeks, an event that is now world renown. Apparently a cycle race through the forest is another popular event according to Mike the owner here at Andeloni. I cant imagine how tough these would be.

Dinner tonight was at the up-market Tsitsikamma Village Inn, an extensive accommodation place, with a large beautiful dining room, and good food.