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Home > Trail tales > 2005 > Onteniqua

Time of year for escapism ...
Tierkop, Onteniqua during December

Somewhere in the Oteniqua mountains


It was the time of year that bred escapism. Our unruly thoughts strayed to the beautiful hiking routes of the Western Cape. And so it was that we chose part of the Tierkop hiking trail in the Oteniqua Mountains. Also, cheap airline fares played an important part in our decision making. 


Those beautiful early December mornings in the Western Cape guaranteed us some splendid weather. Trail huts for the five day hike were fully booked  and being constrained by time decided to do our own thing. Six of us arrived in a locally hired vehicle at a random starting point. Paths, situated some 16 kilometres from the town of George, snaked up from the valley floor. This led to challenging mountain ramparts. Conspicuous were Fynbos, peppered on mountain slopes as far as the eye could see. Great pity none were in flower. The seven hour trail needed endurance and the high humidity required lots of water breaks as sweat kept pouring off us. I thought to myself there were enough drops of moisture to feed a small vegetable patch. Prolific bird life was everywhere. Towards the end of the day there was a moment of trepidation as tufts of storm clouds engulfed us. We decided to raise our tents on high ground and prepare for an early evening meal.


Heated soups were refreshingly welcome. Containers of mixed sea foods in a gooey sauce did not look appetising at all, however, the taste was miraculous. After electing not to carry half filled wine containers in our backpacks, copious cups of wine were consumed.


As drizzling rain and darkness fell upon us we retired to our tents

Later, in the absence of thunder or lightning, clouds liberated large quantities of rain deep into the night. I enjoyed the clatter. There is something quite therapeutic about the drumming down and splattering of rain against the tent. Although slightly sozzled and weary, sleep was elusive. Eventual slumber was interrupted in the early hours when birds seemed to sense the light and started singing morning praises.


 We were covered in a thin layer of fog when we emerged from our tents in the morning. A little later the mist turned blindingly white so nothing else could be seen. A few of us had some slippery falls trying to find our way around. Mysterious as the mist was, it simply seeped away. What we saw next was a vast and incomprehensibly glorious scene. From a mountain vantage point, shimmering in the far distance, beaches along the coastal belt were like a chimera in an urban desert.


We continued our trek through indigenous forest areas, many of the rare trunks labelled with their national tree numbers. This area offered a place for a diverse community of plants and animals. We encountered different species of antelope, many of them shy and running in opposite directions. Museums may display what man has made of nature but these preserves displayed what nature has made of itself. In the distance the thunder of fast flowing water led us to a mountain stream in full flood. This was welcome. All took the opportunity to have a dip and wash-up in the fast flowing water as we were beginning to smell like the second week of a garbage strike. Close observation of the crashing water downstream was irresistible with a hypnotic beauty of violence that was really awesome. By this time we were somewhat lost and unable to find direction. Our bottles filled with fresh water, we proceeded down mountain slopes trying to link up with well trodden paths. Luckily we came across one of the overnight trail huts which were vacated earlier in the day. Taking advantage of the accommodation we had our lunch break in comfort. From here onwards we followed the trail and simply concentrated on our unique and attractive surroundings.


Hills in both directions along the costal belt were blanketed in sea blasted fynbos, infinitely stunning but hardly reminiscent of a forest. White Milkwood trees looking twisted gnarled and ancient blended into the landscape.


We arrived back at our starting point at 6 pm. Tired and exhilarated we proceeded back to our accommodation in Mossel Bay. We chose the right period to go hiking for it rained continuously for the following two days.

Despite the inclement weather, exhibitions of shimmering porpoises and whales kept us fascinated with their antics for long periods along the coast.

Our stay also included steam baths and jacuzzi’s.


The peninsula with all its attractions created an atmosphere that was hard to beat.


Selwyn Lager