Saturday, June 9, 2012

Another Universe

Mrs Kaartman and I recently spent most of a week in Heuningvlei, a tiny Cederberg village of just 25 families. We were collecting local place-names for our forthcoming hiking map of the area [more info at]; we so much enjoyed our contact with the friendly and enthusiastic Heuningvleiers and the incredible peace and beauty of the place that we’ve gotta share it. 
Heuningvlei is one of the Wupperthal ‘buiteposte’, a scatter of tiny hamlets on the Wupperthal mission lands. They variously house from two to maybe thirty families; most breadwinners are effectively subsistence farmers, growing food crops, rooibos tea, and herding goats, sheep and a few cows. These days they have electricity, telephones and satellite TV, but power in the fields and on the roads is still largely supplied by donkeys and mules. All the buiteposte – the cleanest, most litter-free settlements we’ve ever come across in all of South Africa [without a single exception!] – are situated fifteen kilometres or less from the Wupperthal ‘moederkerk’, and all are reached via a network of [mostly] quite appalling roads.
Don’t let that put you off; the buiteposte are villages from another universe, corners of astonishing beauty that lie like beads on a wire down the eastern boundary of the Cederberg Wilderness, from Heuningvlei in the north to Langkloof in the south. Some years ago Peter Hart and Denis Lejeune, amongst others, established [with commendable foresight, I reckon] the Cederberg Heritage Route, a series of guided, “slack-packing” routes that [at a price of course!]  will take you on foot through the mountains to home-stays and guest houses in the middle of the very buitepos villages themselves [see].
But you don’t need to spend big bucks to enrich your experience of the Cederberg in these lekker little towns. You can easily hike – free – between various overnighting options, or drive – any high-clearance vehicle is fine, you don’t need a V8 or even a four-by-four. Or, for pretty moderate fees, you can be transported between them in bumpy but exhilarating donkey carts [take your own cushions]. You’ll pump some much-valued income into these needy communities, too, but make sure you have cash – no card facilities here, hay. No EFTs.
Klipspringer on the ‘Noodpad’,
the donkey track from Pakhuis to Heuningvlei
You could start at the summit of the Pakhuis Pass, where you can either hike the 12km to Heuningvlei with a CapeNature permit, or book to go by donkey cart [see numbers below]. That said, you probably and wisely don’t want to leave your car on the Pass for several days, so it might be best to drive to Heuningvlei. It’s a slow road but quite passable, about 1½ to 2 hours from Clanwilliam. At Heuningvlei the old primary school has been converted into a Backpackers’ Lodge. It’s been well done, too. We were there in violently-cold overnight temperatures [knypend, hay] but the thatched building with its efficient fireplace was pretty snug. It’s well-equipped, too – there’s even bedding – but you need to remember to turn off the mains electricity at night. There are very bright outside lights that turn on automatically at sunset – with no override switch – creating a bit of a stalag atmosphere that’s not much good for star-gazing, either.
Heuningvlei Backpackers Lodge
There are some truly great day walks around Heuningvlei; a permit is needed for the Wilderness but not for the network of paths in the Wupperthal commonage. The friendly locals will provide an inexpensive guide to the many peaks, caves, and rock art sites, too.
Down the track lie the settlements of Ghoeboom and Langkuilshoek [one house/two houses] before Witwater. It’s a high-clearance vehicle road, an easy walk or a bumpy donkey-cart ride. Witwater is a village with maybe twelve families; if you’ve never read M. I. Murray’s “Witwater se Mense” do yourself a literary favour – you won’t regret it, it’s a gem of SA Lit that’s not properly recognized. I blame Tafelberg, who never translated it and let it go out of print ...
About 8km from Heuningvlei you climb over Rooihoogte through really rich and beautiful fynbos, wabooms and tolbos and gorgeous silvery paranomus, to reach Brugkraal, a tiny settlement with pretty good self-catering guest house [details below].
Self-catering cottage at Brugkraal – the one
on the right. Note braaiplekkie behind
There is a three kilometre footpath between Brugkraal and Grasvlei, the next settlement on the string. At Grasvlei there is a really remarkable “toolshed” [see pic], and if your permits are in order you should penetrate the Wilderness for a few km on the Boontjieskloof path, to some of the finest swimming holes in the Cederberg. 
Brugkraal toolshed
From Grasvlei you can either take the awful road across the Tra Tra Bridge and past Agterstevlei to the substantial little village of Kleinvlei or, if you’re hiking, the “secret” footpath down the river, passing the Nooiensgat Waterfall before climbing over the nek at Die Punt and down across the Dassiesbos to Kleinvlei.
Beautiful view – awful road; the track past Agterstevlei
It’s worth spending some time at Kleinvlei. Not only is it a charmingly-pretty little place, it’s the trail head for hikes into the ’Berg to Crystal Pool and beyond. There is an impressive day walk to Wupperthal, through Sas se Kloof with its series of cool pools and its spring-loaded “bobbejaan hek” [sorry, you’ll have to go there for an explanation]. 
Pools in Sas se Kloof
        Kleinvlei has a small campsite for tents, with a kookskerm and ablutions – but sadly it has never had any visitors! It’s worthy of better than that; it was constructed in 2011 as a community effort in a beautiful little place that needs – and deserves – your custom. Go there, fans – please.
The Kleinvlei campsite: in the bottom-right corner of the
pic on the left; Right: the Kleinvlei guesthouse
There is also a self-catering guest house that must be booked ahead – see pics above and numbers below.
From Kleinvlei it’s a longish drive to Eselbank, starting with the bad track back all the way to Brugkraal. If you take this option you should visit Heiveldt and Kouberg before plunging down the steep pass into Wupperthal. 
Kouberg settlement, with Wupperthal valley behind
       The Kerskop Pass out on the southern side of Wupps is one helluva road, 11km to Eselbank that will take at least 30 minutes or more to negotiate [high clearance again, 4x4 not necessary]. You could also walk to Eselbank from Kleinvlei, a 6km walk over the Uitkyk nek, a walk that’s a bit dull and dry compared to most of the startling local countryside.
Accomadation sign at Eselbank
There is a self-advertising self-catering “B & B” at Eselbank [see pic], but, more important, there is the Ereboog and the Eselbank Falls, and if you have never seen them before you certainly need to – they are by themselves worth the visit to this lonely outpost.
The extraordinary 25-metre high Eselbank Ereboog;
ask in the village for a guide to this and the Falls
Eselbank is less isolated than it once was, thanks to some improvement of the road south to Matjiesrivier, but it seems to have a less carefree atmosphere than many of the other buiteposte. If you’ve ever wondered where Cederberg names like Filander se Werf, Muller se Water, Asjas se Kloof, Sas se Hoek etc etc come from ... well, those were the names of the subsistence farmers forcibly evicted, with zero compensation of course – what did you expect? – from their long-held lands in the high Cederberg, by the Cape Colonial Government in 1896. Many of them were resettled at Eselbank; their descendants are less than happy that the 1994 Land Restitution process set an historical cut-off date of 1913 for claims. For the Eselbank families that was seventeen years too late ... takes a bit of the gloss off CapeNature’s so-called “wilderness”, somehow.
You could continue from Eselbank to Langkloof, even further south, where there is an overnight home-stay, but I don’t have the details, unfortunately.
The track south out of Eselbank; heading for Matjiesrivier
Below are the contact details you need for days and nights that you will definitely not regret! Make sure that your camera is loaded with plenty of memory, too.

Backpackers, donkey cart rides, trail guides: phone Dalene van der Westhuizen at 027 492 3070
Self-catering guest house: phone Evert Manuel at 027 492 3223
Tent camping and self-catering guest house, donkey cart rides and hiking tours: phone Mary Anne at 027 492 3025
Eselbank: see pic! – self-catering or B&B cottage, phone 021 931 4890

Bly lekker, besoek gerus, keep warm.
Kaartman 9 June 2012