Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Good Reasons to visit Cape Point ...

Four Reasons to visit Cape Point ...
Click to enlarge ...

It's not as if I need a reason to spend the day at Cape Point but, having done so yesterday, I thought I'd give others a couple to do so — despite an imperfect horizon.

Four Reasons to visit Cape Point ...
Click to enlarge ...

Click through each panorama — they're each about 0.5MB — to a sunrise of your own ...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cape Point: Platboom ...

Cape Point: ...
Platboom: Click to enlarge ...

A deceptively easy amble along Neptune's Diary and Pegram's Point from the Cape of Good Hope, the first stop on the Western side of Cape Point is an enigma. Renowned for its dunes — visible from the Cape, it offers far more; best captured in slightly surrealistic or impressionistic tones. Facing onto the Atlantic and subject to winter's worst, Platboom is a place of contemplation and solitude best visited when foul weather is matched by a good mood ...

Cape Point: ...
Platboom: Click to enlarge ...

Across the dunes, which apparently 'feed' those of Hout Bay and are home to ostrich and buck, the coast meanders past a prime surf break, minor inlets and bays to Gifkommetjie. It's one of those few spots you can spend a couple of hours or the whole day and leave satisfied at having visited or experienced it.

An appropriately dissheviled memorial erected at the surf break by Bobcat reads:
Dedicated to those who loved the sea and shared the joy and rhythm of its breaking waves. May you all be swimming with dolphins and mermaids as well as riding epic tubular swells: Keith Cottrell • Reney Rogers • Alex Macum • Simon Dickinson • Deano Pneumatikatos • John Willis • Nic Voster • Kevin Munnik • Schalck Burger • Kevin Dennett • Andrew Grendon • Martin Cornish • Jacque van Heerden • Kenny Liston • John Hawkins • Greg Berzelman • Clinton Bradfield • Patrick Sparg • David Bornman • Glen Haytiead • Tony v/d Heuvel • Justin Thomas • John Whitmore • Greg Wright • Bruce Cordy • Matthew Hough • Jason de Lange • Wallace Smith • Wayne Castle • Mom • Dad • Sister • RIP
Platboom is one of those places; to remember or not forget.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cape Point: the Farmer's Cliffs ...

Cape Point: The Farmer's Cliffs ...
From Smitswinkelbaai lookout: click to enlarge ...

I've been avoiding the Farmers Cliffs, a walk running 5 km and three hours from the Smitswnkelbaai lookout across the hills to Bordjiesrif. I've always used the trail as a convenient lookout from which to plot assaults on The Coves 300 meters below.

Having had a damned good walk Friday at Good Hope, I decided to put the cliffs behind me Monday morning. A three-hour, one-way gig, you need the accoutrements of a dedicated hiker to do this one alone, i.e. there's nobody on t'other side to pick you up so you walk there and you walk back.

It's suited to those with jellybean shoes, a pair of pogo sticks and a set of convertible subordinated gym debentures. I've nothing against hikers, by the way. It's just that you tend to find the inappropriately dressed ‘walkers’ — rather than the ruddy, energetic-looking ‘hikers’, poking sticks into interesting places, e.g. snake and spider holes, or trying to see how far they can manage to edge along a ledge.

It’s a cultural thing. Walking, that is …

Cape Point: The Farmer's Cliffs ...
De Boer: click to enlarge ...

You walk the Farmer's Cliffs along a path very different to those crisscrossing the rest of the reserve. My old Cats are suited to rock hopping, the sea, sand, and slime. The soles have thinned (in fact, the one needs some glue) and, being flat-footed, I've worn arches since my feet collapsed while in the navy some years back.

Running in combat boots was not my idea of good, clean fun twenty ... nay, thirty and then some years ago. It did me little good then and it came back to haunt me Monday.

In one way, the walk reminded me of the military. It lacked any variation but up, down, or straight ahead. The pictures tell the tale, don't they? Also, I was hammering my right sole — subject to a quirky prosthetic bump, into gazillions of bloody stones. On a decent, rock-littered shore, you tend to use the balls of your feet, jumping this way or that.

On this path, it's thump, thump, thump ... Anyway, my foot's now bruised.

Cape Point: The Farmer's Cliffs ...
Cape Point: click to enlarge

The reward? Precious little if you ask me or, if you ask a bunch of hikers, a serene and mindless doddle through the park.

But not all is lost. If you stick to the beaten track, the Farmer's Cliffs, which traverse Judas Peak, the three hillocks comprising De Boer, and the pointed Paulsberg do offer reward. You merely need to work for it. Past visits tell me there are a couple of interesting detours ...

I knew this before heading out to watch the sun come up on my favoured piece of turf. To spice up the walk somewhat, I decided to visit the beacon atop Paulsberg — the lofty peak with a slightly cleft chin. You can, on Google Earth, make out a path leading up to the peak from the Kanonkop side. But it appears to end halfway.

I thought "To hell with it, I'll find my own way."

Which is easy enough. And which, when summited, offers abundant, rich, bounteous reward for what is a pretty boring stroll. From Paulsberg Peak, Cape Point Nature Reserve, the Cape Peninsula, and the Indian and Atlantic Oceans surround and immerse you.

Moreover, given that few seem to head up there, it's a singularly quiet and unspoilt patch of Heaven. I had things to do later in the day, so any reverie into which I might have slipped was scotched. But I did spend time sucking in the view and the supremely fresh south Atlantic air blowing in on a gale-force breeze.

Most people venturing along the Farmer's Cliffs do so in a group and leave one car at the end of the path, reducing it to a three-hour stroll. If you're hopelessly unfit, make that four.

I headed back the way I'd come. Somehow, spending quality time atop the peak made the return walk extremely pleasurable, an undulating amble along the folds and creases of places, events and spaces before time. Reaching the lookout again, I adjudged the cliff-top stroll an extremely pleasant walk.
There are shorter routes to Paulsberg. And all are safe. You can walk up from Bordjiesrif or the Buffelsfontein Visitors Centre or you can head out over the marshes, a wonderful walk of hidden surprises which, with its mud, flora and fauna, is more to my liking.

Or you can just head for the coast ...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cape Point: Cape of Good Hope

Cape Point: Cape of Good Hope ...
Cape of Good Hope: click to enlarge ...

When Bartholomew Dias visited the Point on his return from the Eastern Cape in 1488, he ran into a typically blustery Cape Town day. The south-easter was howling. Having failed in his bid to reach India, Cape Point was to Dias the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.

"Cabo das Tormentas!" he swore, surveying the roiling sea beneath the towering cliffs. Nevertheless, a consummate sailor, businessman and politician to boot, he landed and erected a padrao at Buffelsfontein proclaiming the land to be forever a Portuguese convenience store on the corner of Africa.

It was this claim to a new corner store with access to low-cost wholesalers in India and grey goods further afield that made Dias's boss, King John II, change the name to Cabo da Boa Esperan├ža, a far more convoluted and difficult-to-pronounce name, now simply and misleadingly translated to Cape of Good Hope.

King John II, like most CEOs and presidents, was out of touch with reality. If he'd followed any of our sporting teams, watched our politicians at play, invested in our economy, bought local property, lived here or taken a bus tour he'd have stuck with Dias's original name which, contrary to popular belief and in keeping with Occam's Razor, means Cape of Torment — the Cape of Storms thing was a National Party cover up.

Ultimately though, Dias was proved correct and, appropriately for Easter, the Cape of Good Hope proved his final torment and he is today only resurrected in blog entries such as this one. Wikipedia tells us that, in 1500, "...Dias was a captain in Pedro Alvarez Cabral's fleet voyaging to India around the Cape. Near the end of May, the fleet encountered a huge storm off the Cape, and four ships, including Dias', were lost with all hands."

Here's a picture taken from the quarterdeck of the NRP Alvares Cabral. It's a frigate and that gun at left can rattle off 4,500 200 mm rounds a minute. You wouldn't think such ships would turn turtle in a hurry or a Cape storm. For that matter, I didn't know they had such ships back then.

For Dias though, Cape Town was indeed the end of the road. Not that our occasionally foul weather is without its rewards, of course ...

Cape Point: Cape of Good Hope ...
Cape of Good Hope: click to enlarge ...

Many visitors to the Cape of Good Hope never reach it. It appears something of a tradition among tourist groups that a race to be the first photographed behind the sign marking the most south-western point of the African continent suffices.

Who the hell wants to climb stairs to a view site anyway?

Some do and the reward is ... erm, rewarding. However, there are more spectacular views even the most enthusiastic explorers are unlikely to see — due mainly to the vagaries of the sea. On entering the dark cove separating Cape of Good Hope from Cape Maclear, the stench of wet cormorant guano covering beds of kelp is likely to deter all but the foolhardy — an adjective I've yet to eschew or deny. The sheer, dank walls dripping with moss and plant life rise more than 200 feet on three sides — surrounding and intimidating you as your eyes clear and make out the caves leading into the far walls. Two enter at the corners at ground level and another about twenty feet up.

This place is awesome. Nobody comes here and, given the tidal nature of its entrance, for good reason. Trapped, there is no way out and drowning is certain. At the narrow side entrance allowed by an extremely low tide, the massive cavern undermining Cape Maclear becomes evident. It roars, booms and bores into the hillside along a narrow wall of rock into which, appropriately, is worn a map of Africa inverted.

I guess Dias, seeing it, knew he had arrived.

The Cape of Good Hope has its history and its geographic significance. The weather can be everything it's purported to be and the view of Cape Point, a short walk away, is particularly stunning before dawn.

But, if you enjoy spending your time with cormorants, it's a place without peer.
Many of the sites visited in this blog are not suited to walking without a guide or local. They are dangerous and should be avoided. However, visiting Cape Point without being aware of the extent of its natural beauty seems pretty pointless to me. And somebody has to do this stuff ...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cape Point: Batsata Cove

Cape Point: Batsata Cove ...
Batsata Cove: Click to enlarge ...

I've not been to Batsata Cove ... I think.

I can say with assurance I've not wandered around Batsata Cove. Perhaps, overlooking it from a guano-covered and gull and cormorant-infested cavern some fifty feet above the large rock guarding it counts as a visit. Perhaps it's as close as I'll get.

So what? The myriad expeditions I've mounted, all focused on exploring the caves and caverns of the area, have been well worth the effort.

Batsata Cove's one of those places other people — usually older people, say they visited thirty years ago. I know the speleological society climbed down there a few years back because they reported it and remain my only source of information on it. Approachable only from the sea or the mountain, it's not a walker's destination.

The path — such as it is or was — which drops down between Judas Peak and De Boer is definitely not a doddle.

Cape Point: Batsata Cove ...
Batsata Cove: Click to enlarge ...

The other path — which doesn't exist and should therefore not be tried, drops down as a cleft in the face of De Boer. It might be suited to members of the Mountain Club, but it sure ain't for walking. Wendy and I tried it just over a year ago and she still wakes up at night — screaming.

We got out at 19:00, but it was only the second time I've thought of helicopters. On the first occasion, I was elsewhere.

We'll revisit that little tale of terror and stupidity at some later date ...

The nut of it is that, much as I'd like to walk to Batsata Cove, I can't. And, because I've tried just about every approach, you probably can't either. At least I've got to within spitting distance of it. A beautiful place, it makes for stunning photographs.

But you'll have to make do with these ...
Walk rating: Impossible — and dangerous to boot.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Cape Point: The Coves ...

Cape Point: The Coves ...
The Coves: Click to enlarge ...

Redolent of every sea novel you've read, The Coves evoke works as diverse as Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped and William Golding's Rites of Passage. Pirates, poachers, smugglers, mountains, wrecks, coves, peaks, caves and sea conditions conducive to every mood meld to shape an ever-fascinating, devastatingly dangerous coast.

I'm not kidding. Based on a visit yesterday, don't walk north of Venus Pool. Winter and summer have pooled forces to ensure the path is little more than a desperate tragedy awaiting an unsuspecting, solitary walker. I visited the Visitor's Centre, reported the trail's condition and was told I could e-mail my concerns to the ranger in charge of Cape Point.

I left wondering whether a fire is similarly reported.

If you negotiate the rim of the third 'beach' from Venus Pool, your next challenge is Christinasgang — blogged last week. Don't go there. Having worked a decidedly dodgy course around the island, you'll find a hole in a spot you'd least expect it. A bush, grown lush through summer, covers the edge of the cavern roof as effectively as any camouflage. And that'll be the end of you. Broken legs, excrutiating pain, and an incoming tide.

Nobody deserves that ...

Cape Point: The Coves ...
The Coves: Click to enlarge ...

I know the place extremely well, but I still get nervous walking there. Everything about it is far larger and immeasurably further than it appears to be. Before reaching two coves that mirror each other and give The Coves its name, i.e. both, split by a peninsula, have a tunnel to the one side and a cave to the other, you'll walk a stretch bearing testimony to the ages. Rocks of every hue, type, shape and size continue to crash like meteorites from the high hills above and their jagged, crystalline remains — immense and minute, if not moulded to smooth contours by the sea, colour the coast as vividly as would any floral profusion.

You'll pass myriad boats being towed to Millers Point and Buffels Bay along the Simonstown road if you set out for the Point before sunrise. And as day breaks with blinding clarity across the silvered sea, an armada of vessels throbs and roars its way towards the Cape and beyond. It takes me ninety minutes to walk to The Coves and the last stop on this particular route, Kelp Cove — about two or three inlets away from Batsata Cove and the brutal cliffs plummeting with seemingly evil intent to the sea from Judas Peak.

Suddenly you're there. The boats have long gone and you're alone. Isolated and unreachable. It's a powerful, awe-inspiring and humbling feeling. It's one which, if lived with for a day, leaves you feeling there's far more and less to all this than we're able to comprehend. And, like a drug, that feeling keeps you coming back for more. There is no time or space or Other out here. But, hey, if you put a foot wrong ...

I've been trying to reach Batsata Cove for two years and have launched several assaults on it to no avail. Yesterday, I figured out the reason. As I turned to leave the impassable Kelp Cove and return to The Coves and their caves, I glimpsed something at the base of the cliffs high on the slopes. Snapping off a shot, I later discovered I'd captured a picture of a doorway into the mountain. That particular hill, a final fold in De Boer, is an alien portal peopled by the Giant Flying Lizards that run our world from their bases beneath our international airports.

I kid you not. Have a look at the evidence and make up your own mind.

This particular gateway — the force field of which has resisted my approaches, must be the entrance to their Cape Town base. I assume a subterranean skyway runs from the Southern Tip to Cape Town International from where they link with their headquarters beneath Denver International. Well, it's Denver or San Diego or one of them. David Icke knows all about it. Read his books.

And all this time I've been taking these strange beings to be tourists. Who woulda thunk otherwise?

As good as it gets, a walk to The Coves is tiring. A return to the insanity of the city is inevitable and, I guess, beneficial. Besides, I know what's out there and it's all good.

Even Visitors are welcome.

Were you to enlarge by three times the picture of Batsata Cove to which I've linked, you'd just be able to discern two people in a rubber duck tied up to the rocks south of the cove. They're invisible at this resolution — showing something of the scale of the place. Quite what they're doing there, I've no idea but, as it's a marine reserve, I doubt they're minding the law.
Walk rating: About ninety minutes from the car park at Booi se Skerm, this walk is extremely dangerous. Please do NOT attempt it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cape Point: Christinasgang ...

Cape Point: Christinasgang ...
Christinasgang: Click to enlarge

Moving from Venus Pool to beneath the weathered summits of Paulsberg, De Boer, and Judas Peak, sheer cliffs plummet to impenetrable fynbos covering steep slopes created by time and the ocean's foul moods. It's a harsh and fractured coast marked by jagged, broken coves, boulder-strewn beaches, and ominously deep caves and caverns. Walking its uncharted, wave-lashed shore, the line separating the Devil from the deep blue sea is frequently indiscernible. Hidden drops, loose scree, and tricky rock faces ensure each step is chosen with care.

I love it. In winter, under a dark sky, it's Paradise.

The coastline, which can be traversed in a couple of hours by walking the Farmers Cliffs far above, stretches from Venus Pool to the far edge of Judas Peak, which rears from the sea by way of an unclimbable cliff. Walking beneath Judas Peak's not on this or any other route so, for now, we'll head towards Batsata Cove, a mysterious maze of caverns, cliffs and cormorants gouged from the rock.

We'll do it in two parts. I'm rather partial to this walk, so am loath to share it. Today, we head for Christinasgang — or the cove I know as Christinasgang.

Cape Point: Christinasgang ...
Christinasgang: Click to enlarge

The walk looks deceptively simple, a simplicity exemplified and belied by my picture of it. It was only when resizing the image to upload it to Zoopy that I realised my three walking companions for the day were in the shot. Hell, I still find it difficult to spot them. If you can, remember that the coast behind them is foreshortened by the lens and even Christinasgang is a long way off — 20 minutes or so, if you're walking there for the first time.

Take care when rounding the headlands of the first two coves and, unless you're really into rock hopping, I'd suggest you walk around the second cove — despite there no longer being a path. Walking becomes an exercise in measured steps along the lip of the fynbos-covered rocks circling the immense rounded boulders tossed up by the sea. Use a stick or hold on to the fynbos if you feel the need to do so. Even a ten-foot fall could spell disaster and, should you suffer vertigo, idle the day away at the second cove.

Approaching Christinasgang, you'll notice the path turning sharply towards the cliffs and an immense rock or island of sorts guards the mouth of a cavern.

It's this path that led me to posting only these pictures. When first we walked it, I noticed that were I to put my foot down, it would take me through the grass to the rocks some twenty or thirty feet below. There was nothing there. The bulk of the island wedged into the cove, some ten metres away, provided cold comfort. We considered the route, beat the fynbos flat around the path and took a detour of about a metre.

That's when S. noticed the spider web and just about went over the edge. We calmed her down, continued, and having crossed the roof of the cavern beneath us, rounded the bend before bounding out onto the headland beyond.

I could string superlatives together, but they'd not do justice to the place. Let's just say it's a beautiful spot.

Given a spring low, you can climb down into Christinasgang and up on to the massive rock jealously guarding it. Otherwise, oil and diesel residue and incredibly slippery rocks make it a hazardous and foolhardy exercise. Not many people go there and, listing every piece of plastic or glass junk known to man, the cavern beneath the cliffs is a beachcomber's treasure trove.

Looking out past the island is awesome. The close, humid air of the cave and the sound of the sea merge to an air of timelessness. This is how it was, is, and will remain. It's quintessentially Cape Point and there's no other place like it.

In the snap taken from the Farmers Cliffs — wherein the path disappears under the rock at the bend, you can see the trail heading north towards The Coves.

Next time ...
Walk rating: About 45 minutes from the car park at Booi se Skerm, this walk is dangerous: Do not attempt it without a local or guide to show you the way.