I’m not a born hiker. Some people seem to have a natural inclination to walking long distances, over uneven terrain, carrying heavy weights and call it leisure time. Myself, I’ve always thought that since our ancestors had no other option but to leg it everywhere, we owe it to them to make use of the wonders of manmade technology as often as possible.
That said, I’ve slowly been coming round to the idea that scrambling over rocks, with nothing but trailmix and water as fuel, can actually be a rewarding and even enjoyable experience. The hikes I’ve done on Table Mountain, in Ceres and in such fantasy novel settings such as Hogsback have proven to me that there is much more to hiking than aching legs and blisters on the feet.
Still when someone suggested we do a five-day hike I was filled with more than a little trepidation. And more than that the name of the suggested spot, The Swartberg Mountains – meaning literally ‘Black Mountain’ – sounds more like a place in said fantasy novel where you would go to destroy a ring of pure evil rather than a place where you go to explore nature.
The Swartberg hiking trail is in the Little Karoo (nearest towns are Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert) in the Western Cape, a place famous mostly for its ostrich farms and The Cango Caves, the ancient Precambrian limestone caverns that kids and old ladies love to get stuck and lost in. The trail is actually comprised of several interlinked trails that offer varying degrees of difficulty. A permit must be obtained from Cape Nature Conservation as only a limited number of hikers are allowed on the trail.
Be warned, the Swartberg can be rather unforgiving. Hikers must carry their own drinking water and be prepared for any eventuality of weather. Extreme wind and rain while hiking is thoroughly unpleasant and can occur suddenly and without warning.
But enough of the scaremongering, with proper preparation the Swartberg hiking trail is an amazing experience turning even the most cynical city-dwellers like me into certified tree-huggers. When walking for such long stretches the mind seems to quiet down and focus on appreciating the here and now. See I told you; tree-hugger.
The landscape is truly spectacular and as the trail progresses offers some true natural gems. Multiple varieties of fynbos form the bulk of the shrubbery that you will traverse and although lacking in large game, we did see some baboons and dassies, and the local birdlife is well worth packing a pair of binoculars for.
Overnight huts providing dormitory-style bunks are scattered across the trail and provide ablutions and areas to braai. Forget gourmet restaurants and 5-star chefs, simple braai food thrown on the fire and charred lightly on both side is, after a whole day of hiking, the most amazing thing imaginable.
I really enjoyed it, but five days is a long time to hike and the Swartberg hiking trail is not really a beginner’s trail. I would recommend that relative newbies like me undertake to do a few lesser hikes before trying to tackle these ‘Black Mountains’.
Cape Nature Contact Details
National callers: 0861 CAPENATURE (227 362 8873)
International callers: +27 861 227 362-8873 / +27 21 659-3500