Around the world by bike
Eden to Addo Mega Hike
The “Eden to Addo Mega Hike” was an attempt to walk from the Knysna forest to Addo Elephant Park - about 400 km through mostly wilderness area. It was the first time this hike was attempted. This is my personal account of events, and may not be the way in which the other participants viewed the hike.
Firstly I must say this was truly a “Mega Hike” like no other, with long and tiring days. The terrain was true to a wilderness area with the crossing of rivers and seven mountain ranges, and although not too difficult, it was a long, long walk! The hikers were supported by “Bhejane 4x4 Adventures” who transported tents, clothes and food between overnight stops, and without whom the hike would have been impossible. See http://edentoaddo.co.za for further info.
I left Cape Town as usual in a huff, this time headed for Knysna where the Mega Hike would start. I went straight to my friend, Nico’s house where I left my car, and he kindly offered to take me to Diepwalle Forest Station to meet my fellow hikers. On arrival I found that the welcome party was just over. If I’d read my e-mails I’d have known to be there earlier, but as usual I’d only read half of the stuff and missed out on a great welcome party. However, I was in time for supper, which took forever to arrive. It was getting real cold outside, so everyone huddled together in the little restaurant (not designed for 40 people) and proceeded to consume most of the red wine that was on offer.
Then it was off to bed in the hikers hut at Diepwalle. Once in bed I could hear the gentle snoring of the person in the bunk below, and the sound of someone scratching in a plastic bag. I felt right at home, and knew that a great hike awaited!
12 August (Day 1)
We were awaked by the sweet sounds of a penny whistle at around 6h30 and started what would become our routine for the next 16 days. Packing up sleeping gear, dressing and repacking our day packs. Breakfast was rather more than what I’d expected, with cereal, hot porridge, tea and coffee, and a bread table (laden with loaves of bread, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, marmite, peanut butter and jam). We made sandwiches for lunch, and so it was around 8h00 that we finally took off in the direction of the Bitou River.
For the first few kilometers we followed the existing hiking trail through dense and typical Knysna forest full of indigenous yellowwood, ironwood and stinkwood trees. This was too good to be true, and soon we were bundu bashing through even more dense bush. We finally arrived at the Bitou River, and could witness the devastation of the recent flash floods in the area. Huge trees were lying piled up in the river, but it was fairly easy to cross as the water had subsided since the floods. We bundu bashed our way out of the valley again, up to more level ground through pine trees and over farm lands.
The last part of the day was uphill, so Diana and I decided to get it over with and walked at a good pace to the top. A short while later we arrived at camp where Frank, Jean and helpers had set up a camp of (to my surprise) excellent 2-man tents. The fire was going, and tea and coffee waited. There were even some buckets with water next to the fire which one could use for washing.
Soon we were all seated on the chairs which had been packed around the fire, discussing our first day of river crossing, bundu bashing, and fancy camp. Little did we know that the river crossing and bundu bashing would be a common occurrence, and that the fancy camping facilities would not always be possible (I would have had a real decent wash that night).
13 August (Day 2)
We left camp at around 8h00 again, and set off into the wilderness in the direction of the Keurbooms River. We walked along the ridges until we got to “Rhino Base Camp” (see http://www.rhinobasecamp.co.za) where we got picked up at the gate by a safari style Jeep and transported to the reception building. What a peaceful place, we even had some tea! There was no time to waste so soon we set off on foot past rhino, hartebeest and zebra. We were expecting to cross a raging river, but once there we realized that the river was covered by large trees which had been washed down by the flash floods. An area of about 500m (hope I’m not exaggerating) was totally flattened and filled with fallen trees. This may not sound like a problem, but trying to walk over these trees was nearly impossible. Like tight rope walkers we were trying to walk on branches and tree trunks in our effort to reach the other side. The crossing took forever, but we all made it (scratched and bruised) to the other side.
Once across the river we bushwhacked our way out of the valley, machete in hand. The going was really slow, but as we brushed past the fynbos it gave off fantastic fragrances – a pleasure to be in the wild. Once on top of the ridge we had an easy 7 km walk to camp. There was no fire this night, as we were in a reserve where fires are prohibited. The support crew cooked on gas, with tea and coffee ready as always. Tents were pitched in the stony road this time (really stony - welcome to the Mega Hike).
There was a little river, and some hikers even attempted a wash in the pools. Madness, total madness - it was freezing cold and I can’t do the cold water thing!
I don’t know how they did it, but the food was once again excellent, truly tasty and interesting. Shortly after supper we all went to bed as it was too cold to sit outside, and the tent was the best place to be.
14 August (Day 3)
On our way again at around 8h00, we followed a jeep track all the way to Soetkraal, situated in the Tsitsikamma National Park. The walking was relatively easy but hilly, making for a long day. The scenery was again quite fantastic with the Outeniqua Mountains in the background. Each of us had by this stage found their walking pace, some walking with sticks. Some, like Saartjie, had two walking sticks (striding uphill she looked a bit like a robotic spider).
Along the way we came across our tents neatly stacked along the side of the road (a rather worrying sight), and further along we found the trailer! Wondering what that meant Karmen and I headed up the hill to see what we could find. Upon eventually reaching Soetkraal we heard that the heavily loaded truck got stuck in the muddy roads, and some of the gear had to be off-loaded. After we arrived the crew had to go all the way back to pick up the tents they’d left by the side of the road.
It looked like rain, and we set up a limited camp with the tents available. It started raining, and we found an old shed into which we moved most of the things. The crew cooked in the shed, and some of us even slept in the shed that night.
The dreaded blisters had started to appear, and Eugene was walking as if he’d been riding a horse for three days. A spare pair of lycra shorts appeared, hopefully making it easier to walk.
15 August (Day 4)
Although the rain had stopped by morning, the river out of Soetkraal was still too deep for us to cross. Fortunately the park’s truck was in the vicinity, and gave us a lift across. On this day we were to cross the Tsitsikamma Mountains and head in the direction of the Langkloof. We walked along an old road, now totally overgrown and eroded. We were still in the Soetkraal area when the mist and light rain started.
It became freezing cold, and the rain increased. Even with rain gear on everything was still getting wet. We sheltered for a while in an abandoned farmhouse, where we also regrouped. From there we bushwhacked over the neck into the Langkloof, and through apple orchards. Our overnight camp was at Louterwater farm, where there were a few log cabins with hot showers (what luxury!). We arrived wet and very cold, but the crew had made a big fire, and we had hot coffee while the food was cooking.
By the time I eventually got to the shower the water was kind of cold, and I had one of the quickest rinses imaginable. Supper made up for it - macaroni cheese, my absolute favorite. We huddled around the fire trying to get our boots and socks dry. Needless to say various things melted, including my socks (now I was down to 2 pairs - one never learns).
16 August (Day 5)
We woke up in the chalets to find everything frozen outside, including the things which had been left by the fire. We didn’t know it but a very long day awaited.
This was a day when some hikers would leave, and new hikers would join the group. We set off along a gravel road for about 16 km, until we reached the small settlement of Kareel. This was a special day so we didn’t pack lunch, but were served a rather fancy lunch as we said goodbye to some hikers and welcomed the new ones. Ian, Diane, Lanen, Toffer, Perino and Albie joined as. We set off into the unknown with a rough map of the area. The path took us up and down hills and into the most beautiful valleys. We bushwhacked our way up and down hills, and everyone was fairly tired by now. Most of the people were suffering from blisters. Ralf had a GPS which could give us an indication of distance (in general it seemed to be around 20 – 25 km per day).
The last part of that day we kind of circumnavigated a hill and only arrived in camp at 18h30, just as it was getting dark. We’d had to ask directions from a local farmer, who we all agreed looked just like Santa. Once again it was very cold, but at least we had a fire. Unfortunately there were also devil thorns, which meant the end of the aero rest). By this time nearly everyone had sore feet, and blisters had become a common problem.
17 August (Day 6)
At this stage we were in the Kouga Wilderness area with a fantastic view of Peak Formosa. We had settled nicely into a routine, and left camp at about the same time as usual. We were in the foothills of the Kouga Mountains and had three rivers to cross on this day, the main one being the Kouga River. The first two rivers were fairly easy to cross, but the Kouga posed a bit of a problem. The river was fairly fast flowing but fortunately not very deep, and with stick in hand we all made it across safely (although one or two people were nearly washed down the river after losing their footing). Thanks to Toffer, Eugene, and Ralph who helped the others across.
Across the river we climbed a fairly steep hill out of the valley, and headed on to camp over the Kouga Mountains. We arrived at camp at about 17h00 (which was becoming routine by now).
At camp we were a little surprised to find the support truck solidly stuck in deep mud. The crew had to take various slow routes to this spot so the tents weren’t pitched yet, and we all jumped in and pitched our own tents. While dinner got under way we tried to make a fire for warmth. Frank set off in search of a towing vehicle, and much later a farmer arrived with his tractor and pulled the truck out of the mud. It is unbelievable how friendly and helpful people are in that part of the world (it took the farmer an hour and a half each way from his home by tractor).
18 August (Day 7)
We had camped next to the road where the truck had been stuck, and from there we headed off bushwacking uphill until we found a jeep track. The track lead us down a steep hill into the Kouga Valley, an unbelievably beautiful and unspoilt valley. After waiting for everyone to catch up we carried on and found the farmer who had helped us the previous night (this time he was driving a bakkie, and had three bags of oranges!).
From there we bundu bashed for a kloof, which Galeo thought was the best way to follow. Albie thought that straight up a slope would be about 20 minutes quicker (I must admit that it didn’t look too difficult). We headed up the slope, which soon became a scramble over loose stones which could wipe out those following. The hill was promptly renamed “Albie’s Hill”. We all made it to the top just to discover that we could have stayed on the jeep track. So we followed the jeep track up and over many hills on this day. However, the 360 degree views were magnificent, and we passed a giant yellowwood tree along the way. We arrived at camp around 17h30, very tired and with blistered feet. The camp is called Baviaans Lodge, which is a bit deceptive as this is not the Baviaans Kloof and it is not a lodge either (bummer, I was already dreaming about having a shower!).
19 August (Day 8)
That morning we Left Baviaanskloof Lodge with a minimum of equipment, as it would be tricky for the truck to reach the site of our next camp while towing a trailer. Only the necessities were packed into black bags and taken on to that night’s camp.
So, we headed up the mountain into the Greater Baviaans area. At the top of the mountain we came across a very intriguing contraption, which after various theories, we decided was used for the harvesting of Honeybush tea. We even encountered a heard of buffalo on our way.
We reached our camp site at Koude Nek at around 14h00, and (surprise!) the weather had set in and it was freezing cold. We started a fire while waiting for Jean to arrive with the truck. He arrived much later after a really slow drive up the muddy pass, and we started setting up camp. Meanwhile the weather hadn’t improved, the wind was howling and the rain still falling. The crew managed to cook a wonderful meal under very trying circumstances. Once we’d eaten everyone ran for a tent (three to a tent as not all the tents were brought to this site). The wind and rain carried on all night. This would be remembered as the night of storms. I’m sure most people thought that they were going to be blown off the mountain that night.
20 August (Day 9)
What a night! It was still stormy in the morning. Getting up for breakfast was tricky as the tents kept blowing away, and so did the makeshift kitchen. Sebastian and Alwill had to dive on tents to prevent them from blowing over the cliff. We headed off in the mist and later discovered that we were going the wrong way, so we turned back. After a few more wrong paths we were on our way again, hopefully in the right direction.
The path had become increasingly hilly as we neared the Baviaanskloof. So, up and down and up and down we went until we found a very steep path down the mountain leading to Geelhoutbos. What a beautiful site, green lawns and chalets!
But, we weren’t sure where our camp would be that night, and we couldn’t reach Jean on the radio. It was possible that our camp had been set up further down the road. On the other hand the crew may not have reached this point yet, as they had to go back and fetch the rest of the kit, and then drive a long way around via Willowmore.
We were all eyeing the chalets longingly, and were very reluctant to move on (the chalets were even unlocked). However, we were a bit hesitant to just move in (what if a whole bus load of tourists arrived to find us lying on their beds?). Finally we got word that Joan’s husband had organized for us to stay in the chalets, and in no time we were in the baths giggling like kids. There was still no sign of the support crew, but everyone agreed that they were quite prepared to go hungry in exchange for a bed and a bath. It was fantastic - I hadn’t had a wash for days.
By 19h00 the tired crew arrived, but in no time they had a fantastic meal ready (with dessert). What a crew!
21 August (Day 10)
We were in my favorite part of the world, and we were rather reluctant to leave our cozy chalets. From here we took the gravel road to Rooihoek. The walk was easy but far, with lots of river crossings. The Baviaanskloof is a very special place and one can drive through by vehicle from Patensie or from Willowmore. The mountains, valleys and rock formations are something very special. There was lots of spoor, and although we didn’t see a lot of wildlife we could hear noises in the bush.
We once again arrived at camp by 17h00. The camp was already set up at Rooihoek, overlooking the river. What a treat! I even tried a swim in the river, but I’m too much of a baby and could only manage to get in half-way. Barbara came walking along and dived straight in, swimming to the other side. Everyone agreed that we would have her tested for drugs when we got back (that women is a machine).
One could clearly see the devastation caused by the recent floods, as most of the beach previously there had been washed away. Rooihoek is still my favorite spot, but next time I’ll come back in summer.
22 August (Day 11)
This was our last day in the Baviaanskloof, and a beautiful day as we left Rooihoek for the last part of the Kloof. We carried on walking along the road, and still saw spoor and heard lots of birds in the trees. This was another day when some hikers would leave, and new hikers would join us. Unfortunately for me Helen would be leaving, as I had become quite friendly with her - she was such a delight to have on the hike. So it was sad to see her go, I would really miss her. It was a very long day, and just before we reached camp we came across “Cambria Café”. It had been a while since we had seen something like this, so everyone went crazy. We bought coke, chips chocolates, and whatever we could lay our hands on. We sat on the lawn outside the café and devoured every last morsel. It was amazing to see how everyone was getting stronger. Steph was walking like a train despite her two replaced hips (they must be bionic or something).
There was lots of chirping and chatting along the last part of the road to camp, it must have something to do with the coke! We arrived at camp with burning feet again, but were pleased to find an actual hot shower and a proper toilet - what luxury! We camped at Kudu Kaya, which is on a private farm and a real retreat.
We also met the new hikers, who seemed ready for the last part of the hike. They seemed a really nice bunch (loud, hooligans, smoking and drinking – my type of people?).
So off to the showers I went to wash my hair for the first time since leaving Cape Town! At supper we sat around the fire for a while drinking red wine which the new hikers had brought along, thanks guys that was great!
23 August (Day 12)
In the morning we left Kudu Kaya and set off on a fairly short walk. However, had to cross the Groot Rivier a few times and it was actually easier to walk in strops, instead of taking off and putting on boots all the time.
The reason for the short day was uncertainty about how far the support truck would make it, and even then it could only go a limited distance on our route before returning to take a roundabout route to the next camp. So we walked as far as we thought the truck would make it, before stopping and lighting a fire. We expected the truck to take some time, due to the overgrown path, river crossings, and fallen trees.
While waiting it started to drizzle, and to our relief our support arrived at about 18h00. We quickly pitched the tents while the crew got the kitchen going. The fire was burning nicely, and we sat around it enjoying beer which the crew had brought along for us. Just as the food was ready the rain came down, so we gulped down the meal and ran for cover.
24 August (Day 13)
We were up at 7h00 again, and away by 8h00 on a beautiful sunny day. This day the hike would be mostly uphill, out of the valley and onto the foothill plateau of the Winterhoek Mountains. Only three river crossings lay ahead for the day.
After plenty of hills we arrived at camp just after 17h00 - the same time as the support truck. Ralph informed us that our distance for the day was 26km. We all pitched our tents again, while Jean and the crew got the food ready. I pitched my own tent as some tents were by now broken, and we were short of tents. At least the tents are large and can easily sleep three people, instead of the two per tent which we had been doing.
It started raining as we were still pitching the tents - it seemed to be happening every night now. Fortunately we were camping next to a farmhouse with a covered stoep, so we took cover from the rain on the stoep.
25 August (Day 14)
It rained all night and by this morning I discovered that my tent is not as waterproof as I’d expected. We walked across some farmlands, including a farm known as Oulanden owned by the Van Skalkwyk’s.
Steph had recently returned from the Camino, a three month pilgrimage walking in France and Spain. As we walked many interesting stories about these experiences emerged, from picking up a dog to meeting interesting people along the way. We also found out that Diana has done a 21 day stint on the Camino earlier this year. It was very interesting to listen to their stories.
André and Mark were making the walk even more fun along the way, and you can hear their infectious laugh as they were talking absolutely nonsense. André was by now seriously complaining about his feet, or as he said everything from the hips down.
That evening we camped in a field next to a farm house. We thought about sleeping inside the house, but the farmer wasn’t home and there was no key. Instead we looked at the house with longing eyes, knowing there would be a toilet and bath inside.
26 August (Day 15)
A real mega hiking day awaited us as we left our camp next to the farm house that morning. We walked along a gravel road for about 26 km, which was really hard on our feet. At least the views were good, and the veld was extremely green for that part of the country.
I walked for a while with Clarissa and Ralph, listening to Clarissa’s stories of her years in Botswana and Zambia. What an interesting life that must have been, I hope she writes a book about it one day. All the talking seems to distract one’s attention from the road, and we crossed the Springbok Vlakte in no time, and then we came across a shop and bottle store. Needless to say, we all charged in and got coke and chips and a few beers for the evening.
The last 10 or 12 km were over farmlands, and then straight up the Zuurberg Mountain. Some of the hikers found this a bit too much, and got a lift with the truck up the mountain. Some of us were stupid enough to carry on up the kloof which was really steep, and after huffing and puffing we made it to the top. Looking back we had a fantastic view over the surrounding mountains, including Cockscomb, just before it started getting dark. So, we stumbled into our mountain top camp just after 17h00, dead tired after a 40 km walk. Now my feet were sore, very sore!
27 August (Day 16)
It’s amazing what a plate of food and a nights rest can do. In the morning we were up and away at 8h00 for the downhill walk into the Addo Valley. We headed straight downhill, through the natural vegetation (which had changed probably a hundred times since the start of the hike). As we approached the Addo Elephant park the scenery became typical of the area, with thickets and lots of spekboom.
Upon reaching the gate into Addo there were lots of photos being taken, but there was about another 8 km of walking to the finish. We arrived at the Sunday’s river boma to find an excellent lunch waiting, even with Champaign, snacks, and beer. Wow I didn’t expect that.
THANKS PEOPLE THAT WAS A GREAT HIKE. VERY, VERY LONG BUT WORTH EVERY STEP!!! LONG LIVE EDEN TO ADDO.
A big thank you to all the team: Frank, Jean, Sebastian, Karmen and Anwill - without you this Mega-Hike would not have been possible.
List of things to take on such a hike
Sleeping Bag - First Ascent Ice breaker
Sleeping mat - Aero rest
Daypack - 35 liter with built-in rain cover
Bladder - 2-3 liters
Space Blanket - Small
Swiss army knife/Leatherman
Rain pants - Cape Storm
Fleece jacket - Cape Storm
2 x Long pants - zip off type/quick dry
2 x Shorts
3 x Short sleeve tops - quick dry
3 x Long sleeve tops - quick dry - preferably dark colors & thigh fitting for warmth
Socks x3 pairs
Thermal underwear - pants and vest