Ett has always gone on about this amazing place called the Baviaanskloof. Back in the day, when he was really fit, apparently he did a trip where they cycled like 1000 miles a day(!), sleeping in the bush and swimming in the clear water pools. So I was keen to see what all the fuss was about. But we only had a very short weekend, and being Winter, the weather was looking decidedly unpredictable, so we decided to stay in guest house type places along the way instead of camping…later we realized we had made a hugely regrettably decision, but oh well. It took us about 2 hours until we got to the entrance of the National Park and the start of the wilderness area. Within a short distance, the cliffs rose up on either side of us in a gorge that put Cheddar to shame. I actually had to mention that to Ett as he had visited me in England in January and I had taken him to Cheddar Gorge, keen to show him some of our beauty hot spots. At the time he had politely made all the right noises, but now I realise he must have been laughing on the inside, because Cheddar is just a tiny snippet of the stunning, rugged mountainous region that make up Baviaans.
It was already late afternoon by this time, so we spoke to the people we had booked with (proper Afrikaans, with dogs and children running wild about the place) and went on a little further, through huge crops of oranges to find our little chalet. Chalet is putting rather a positive spin on in…more like a chipboard hut and it was freezing in there…colder than outside, with no heater and the electric blankets weren’t working. In true English fashion however, tea was soon on the go and we opened up the oven to get some heat in. Then we went for a little explore. It was beautifully quiet except for the odd bark of a kudu or bushbuck and baboons calling. We walked up a small river with tropical trees hanging over it, making it feel in my mind like real Pocahontas terrain, and I had to indulge in an extravagant ‘Colours of the Wind’ performance using the rocks and bushes as my props. I wanted to go for a swim in the pools as well, but maybe it was a tiny bit too cold, and also it starts getting dark very quickly in South African winter so we stumbled back to the hut and Ett started preparing the fire for what was an awesome braai with campfire singing.
We actually slept so soundly in our little hut and the next morning we were soon on our way continuing the drive through the mountains. You were only allowed in the park with a 4×4 and the drive that day really made that apparent. The single lane track had been bumpy and uneven up until now, but as we continued, huge stretches had been washed away and we were now a couple of hundred metres up on the edge of the mountains, and if the bakkie were to fail or Ett lose concentration, then we would be over the edge in a second. It would have been my Mum’s worst nightmare, and I did feel myself reacting as she would have i.e. diving down into the footwell at particularly precarious moments, screaming at Ett to keep his hands on the wheel and concentrate, and then sobbing when he laughed at me for panicking! But it was worth it for the incredible views.
For lunch we stopped at one of the campsites near a beautiful large pool, which was so still that the intricate patterns and bright colours of the gorge cliff on one side were reflected back in its waters. We opened up the back of the bakkie and made one of our staple lunches…tuna avocado and mayo sandwich, and went down to the sandy pool edge about 20m away to eat. Ett went back to fetch something from the bakkie and I was awoken from my post lunch daze by his sudden eruption of shouts and curses which echoed across the water. I had an idea of what might have happened and Ett confirmed. Not unexpectedly baboons, who had probably clocked us from the moment we stopped the bakkie, had raided our supplies. One had run off with half a frozen chicken we had only bought this morning from a small store along the way. The bread had been destroyed; there were chunks out of the cheese and footprints in the butter…a full on raid! Ett was annoyed at himself as he knew what these baboons were like, but I actually found it pretty funny…hadn’t wanted chicken that evening anyway!
That evening we had booked to stay in a lakeside chalet (another vastly overexaggerated accommodation description), but when we got there we immediately didn’t get the vibe. Hard to touch on why exactly, but it was all very Eurocamp with everyone with their little 10×10 space, and there was an English man in the chalet next door who didn’t seem to have much to do aside from watch what we were doing and so as we hadn’t yet paid, we decided to make a break for it. The guy struck up conversation with us as we were leaving and without wanting to say that the reason was because he looked creepy and we didn’t like the place, we said we were off to find a shop (already knowing that the tiny conveninence store down the road was not convenient on Sundays), and he asked if we could buy him some wine. As we never returned, the poor man never got his wine and I wondered if he worried what happened to us…the young couple in the mountains who said they would only be a minute, but who never returned, and were never seen again!
We actually completely lucked out. We tried a guesthouse a few km down the road and pulled into a farmyard where we were immediately surrounded by sheep. I made friends we three tame ones while Ett ventured tentatively toward the house (he assumed a place like this would have a huge protective guard dog). When he returned with the owner, a lovely friendly Afrikaans woman, he was holding some lamb chops (cousins of the friends I had made no doubt!) and petting a teeny tiny dog (so much for the vicious hound!) The place also was utilizing a Anatolian dog to protect the sheep from leopards and jackals, but we didn’t dare try petting him. She took us a few km away to a perfect little stone cottage, which was to be our home for the night. It was just what we wanted…quiet and isolated, but with hot water (once Ett eventually found the geezer), pans (I had decided to cook pancakes to go with our meat, seeing as our bread had been chomped by baboons) and braai pit (no self-respecting African home is without). And so we spent a lovely evening chilling out there, with an unusual supper of pancakes, lamb chops and beer bread (Ett’s creation).
The next day we drove on, stopping for amazing rusti bread with cheese and apricot jam and were sad when we eventually left the park after a beautiful sighting of some Klipspringers. On the way home we stopped in a small town called Steitlerville for some tea and scones (my influence!). Ran by unusual, but lovely people, we were introduced to Katy, a rescued kudu calf, a rescued tame bat-eared fox, a Hadeda with a broken wing, and shown round the guy’s small vintage car museum.
An incredible little trip. My only wish is that it was longer, warmer so we could have swum in the pools, and that we had camped. I will have to come again…