It is just as well that when first reading the email inviting us to join one of the Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails that the rather obvious fact that I was going to have to actually walk the 28 km didn’t register. Or I probably would have chickened out and sent my other half without me.
My eye, instead, homes into the word ‘gentle’ (used to describe the hiking trail) and the fact that we will not have to carry heavy packs, will have our food laid on for us, and be put up in a B&B in Paternoster. I need no further persuasion.
The Five Bay Trail is described as a walking trail. And for those who are seasoned hikers, it is possibly a walk in the park, although you’ll more than get your exercise in.
For those of you, like me, who walk occasionally and do not count yourselves as fit, you will manage, only just…
The trail, which starts and overnights on both evenings in Paternoster, and ends in Jacobsbaai, hugs the coast taking place mainly along the beaches of a myriad bays between the two villages. The weekend was to have many highlights, including delicious food, incredible views, and good conversation.
Arriving late afternoon on the Friday at Paternoster self-catering lodges, Tracey welcomes us with an ice-cold beer and the chance to meet the rest of the group – a diverse and interesting bunch that because the hike is the last of the official launch of this particular trail, and geared towards the few journalists invited, means that we have a fauna and flora expert from the biosphere, and one of the original team involved in designing the trails along.
The Five Bay Trail is one of five trails designed within the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve. The others are the Darling Stagger, Eve’s Trail, Wheels of Time, and the Berg River Canooze. Each of these aims to create awareness about the biosphere whilst at the same time contributing towards the socio-economic well-being of the communities through which it passes.
It’s a feel-good hike, in other words, where proceeds of the cost of the hike go towards local guides, caterers, drivers and boosting the local economy. Responsible Tourism at its best.
I have to bring only a willingness to walk, a pair of hardy walking shoes (and even that wasn’t necessary as Sven, the journalist from Go mag proves after doing almost the entire trail barefoot) sunscreen, a hat and a swimming costume.
The trail begins with a preliminary stroll along the beach of Paternoster to our dinner across on the other side of town, where Oep Ve Koep chef, Kobus van der Merwe, hosts us for a meal in his Paternoster B&B.
Part-way through supper we learn that one has to book even for breakfast at Oep Ve Koep (it might look like a general-dealer store, but it’s obviously rather a lot more). No surprises there, as the meal is incredible.
Kobus is renowned as a local forager and our veges include interesting edible fynbos. The presentation is beautiful and the service, at our table d’ote in the heart of the home, professional. Home-made bread, springbok steak and dessert are highlights.
Up bright and early the next morning, a wonderful breakfast spread (but didn’t we just eat?) of fruit salad, granola, yoghurt and what can only be described as Pikkie’s aplomb – an egg, mushroom, cheese and bacon dish that puts shame to the average eggs sunny-side-up. Pikkie manages somehow never to run out of just-made plungers of coffee, a smile and the grace of a good hostess.
We pass through the town of Paternoster. It’s the first weekend of crayfish season. Town is abustle with or without crayfish season, but the beaches alongside and all the way to Titiesbaai (in Cape Columbine Nature Reserve) are so full of campers all intent on hauling in their four crayfish a day to enjoy on an evening or morning braai, that we virtually trip over them. It’s an interesting perspective – that of a hiker passing through…
In our backpacks are self-made sandwiches from food laid on for us that we enjoy on the rocks just beyond Titiesbaai. A passing whale and her baby appear as if to order and our feet enjoy a welcome respite from all the sand walking.
The day is hot. I am glad of my long-sleeved linen shirt and wide-brimmed hat. Particularly when I see how burnt Rhett, who manages the biosphere’s stewardship programme, has got.
But we’ve already lost enough time (I admit to taking too many pictures and asking a myriad questions about the various fynbos flowers we pass), and lunch is over. We press on.
The second half of the first day is difficult for me.
The heat of the day and sore feet are nothing though compared with the views and the blue of the sea, the endless sandy curves of bays, shell middens, incredible fynbos and different colours of lichen that hug the hulking boulders of some of the bays.
Just as the heat gets to me, whilst walking against a cliff with little respite from the sun, we stumble across a perfect inlet that functions as a swimming hole. Decorum is flung to the winds as each of us strips down to the bare minimum before jumping into the icy water.
For those who can stay in beyond a minute, the tide pulls hither and thither treating us in similar fashion to the large fingers of seaweed that line the rocks.
We trudge across Noordwesbaai to the Trekoskraal headland and the end of day one. Despite the gorgeous food that evening at Skipskebys, we’re all in bed by 9.30pm.
Day three dawns. The green bus (no more guilt trips), which has already met us partway with water, and at the end of yesterday, takes us back to Trekoskraal after another incredible Pikkie breakfast. This morning is foggy. It’s just rained and is cooler than the day before.
It’s slightly easier going. Despite this part of the coast not being part of a reserve, people are still camped along various parts, without facilities. Someone has placed a toilet (a chair with a toilet seat in it) in the middle of the fynbos with a view of the sea – just hope they’ve dug a hole beneath it, are my thoughts, even as I muse about the view from the loo.
The bays across which we traipse include the incredible dunes of Wesbaai where swales have hollowed out nests in the sandy cliffs overhead. As the wind has got hold of them so each has become deeper and more like the window of a human abode. It’s a bird-version of Cappadocia, the cave dwellings in Turkey.
Morgan, one of our guides, shows me how to walk in the footsteps of others of the group ahead of me on the trail. It is both a practical lesson (it’s a lot easier when walking in sand to walk in the footsteps of your fellow hikers) and a metaphysical one. Now tired, I find that I am the third person to have stepped in these particular sandy indentations, occasionally erased by an errant wave as the tide recedes.
It’s our last bay before Jacobsbaai and the trail’s end. Hospitaalbaai is named such not because, as I think, it is the nursing bay of whales and their calves, but because in the old days ships used to offload their sick in the bay en route to Table Bay where there were strict quarantines. If recovered, sailors could hope to reconnect with their ship on the way back.
We lunch at Weskusplek, renowned because Steve Hofmeyr is part-owner, his photograph none too subtly displayed. The food isn’t great, but it’s a wonderful setting.
The hike’s members are sad to take their leave. Camaraderie when on a hike easily builds. Stories have been told, details disclosed, lives explored. The trail has been an incredible experience. On the journey back to Paternoster, Morgan, who can’t resist a moment to play, begins singing ‘I did it my way” in true Sinatra style, until he reaches the end and gleefully inserts “I did it five bays”.
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