One of the more interactive ways to experience the countryside is to take the time to walk through it. Take in the sights, sounds and smells. But often people are discouraged by having to carry all their gear on their backs. Being weighed down by three days worth of provisions makes the prospect of being outdoors seem somewhat less appealing.
I have found the easy way to lose the hiking weight!
Enter Slackpacking! All the hiking goodness of fresh air, sunshine, leaping over rocks and climbing over stumps, without the bulk of a backpack full of stuff.
The idea of slackpacking is to walk a route over a few days while your gear gets taken for you. This makes things a whole lot easier and suddenly hiking becomes a lot more appealing.
I proceeded to join part of a slackpacking tour in the Karkloof. I say part because due to a rookie error, I managed to procure myself some popped blisters and couldn’t finish. For those that don’t hike regularly, do not put socks back on while your feet are wet! Blisters are likely to occur over distance.
The Karkloof Falls 2 Falls tour guided by Spekboom Tours take you through little frequented areas that you are unlikely to see in the Midlands in any other way. The Tour starts out in the mist belt forest area following old harvesting paths for Yellowwood, Cape Chestnut and Lemonwood trees. This protected area prohibits the creation of new paths, which means the areas hiked through are absolutely pristine and largely untouched.
This area boasts about 260 species of bird, which can be heard as you walk through the forests. The Guides are knowledgeable in identifying trees and answer my frequent questions of “What is that? Can you eat this?”. Ayanda also doubles up as part as our spider guide. Which basically means that he managed to keep us out of the webs for the most part.
As you pop out of the forest and head out on the escarpment you can immediately feel the temperature difference between the forest and the grasslands. We head over to Grey Mares Tail Falls while topping our water bottles up with cold water from the stream. The panoramic views from the Falls are spectacular. Whether you be looking out toward the green pastures or down the 101 metre drop that the falls makes it way over.
This makes up the first of the three Falls over three days being Grey mares Tail Falls, Karkloof Falls (105 metres) and finishes with the Howick Falls (111 metres).
You may be as fortunate as I was in getting to view some of the vulnerable species endemic to the area. There are the likes of the tree dwelling Samango Monkeys, the elusive Wattled Cranes and the Cape Parrot. The Wattled Crane was a big tick box checked for me. It is the first time I have seen this large bird which is known to inhabit fairly inaccessible wetlands. These were seen on the escarpment marshlands as we enjoyed the midday sun while walking between rocks, scrub and pretty Helichrysum flowers that look like paper flower posies.
Lunch is supplied alongside a dam with rocky outcrops as backrests. Meals are part of the slackpacking tour package and this meal comes in the form of locally sourced, organic, tasty wraps while some of the group decide to take a dip.
There are a couple of healthy herds of antelope feeding on the escarpment that are surprised by our appearance. We watch them lope off as we head down towards the forest area surrounding Rockwood Lodge. It’s not every day you get to see such an abundance of wildlife. I am thrilled to know that the ecosystem in this area is healthy and that tours like this supplement ongoing conservation efforts.
As we descend, we walk back into the forest, albeit a different setting to the indigenous hillside we climbed initially. We navigate some tricky muddy paths caused by the humidity and rain with shrieks of laughter as we slip and slide a bit. We stop to watch a crab at Hidden Falls and fill our water bottles again before the last few kilometres hike down to the rest stop for the evening, which is the comfortable Thistledown Country House.
By this stage, we are all starting to feel the day’s exertions, the first day being more rigorous that the remaining two. The average distance hiked over the three days is about 13 – 20 kilometres a day. The sun has certainly taken its toll today, but I am very pleased to have seen this part of the country in all of its beauty.
Falls 2 Falls Tour
Duration: 3 Days, 3 Nights
Required Fitness Level: Moderate to Fit
Average Daily Walking distances: 12 – 20 km
Accommodation type: upmarket midlands style guesthouses
Comfortable accommodation, all meals, luggage transfer, registered guide, conservancy fees and forest canopy tour.