Intrigued by a wide blank space on the map between the Baviaanskloof which I had travelled to catch up with William Bond, botanist, doing research there in January, 1978 (see:”Runaway” posted March 4, 2014) and the parallel main road in the Langkloof Valley to the south, I wanted to explore it.
Thinking that it might be part of the Baviaanskloof reserve, I wrote to the Department of Forestry in September and November, 1979, to try and get permission to hike through the area. Basically, no actual permission could be given unless there were facilities provided for camping. Naturally there were none. Eventually I was given to understand that as long as we behaved responsibly, nothing could prevent us from going as there was nobody there to stop us!
When construction work closed down for the Christmas break, Sheila and I drove to Fort Beaufort where we left our vehicle and travelled on to Port Elizabeth with the company surveyor who lived there. We caught a Railway Bus to Joubertina a small town in the fruit-growing Langkloof, With our packs on our backs, we plodded west along the main road until we reached a dirt road that headed in our direction, with a signpost that read: Onder Kouga. The Kouga River traversed the area, west to east, with the parallel Kougaberge Mountain range just beyond.
When the road swung away to the left, we plunged down the nearest ravine, figuring that going downhill would lead to the river. It did, but the ravine was choked up with invasive Blackwattle. (Acacia mearnsii introduced from Australia in 1864, useful for the high tannin content in the bark, now a rampant scourge that South Africa spends futile millions trying to control.) With a tent laterally across my shoulders, I kept getting snagged on the vegetation until we finally reached the Kouga River.
We followed it downstream for four days without seeing any sign of civilization beyond some rusty barbed wire and a few wild Afrikander cattle. There was not much game except the occasional antelope and the birdlife was not very varied, but the vegetation, a mix of fynbos and riverine yellowwoods, some ficus spp. and trees I could not identify, was magnificent. The valley is narrow with rearing cliffs and steep ravines.
Mid-summer; it was extremely hot, but the clear cool rushing waters of the river were right beside us. Often we did not bother to get dressed. Shouldering our packs, we walked naked from one swimming hole to the next. It was glorious; an unforgettable few days of absolutely wild tranquillity.
At last we crossed a dirt-road cause-way near where we camped our last night. A bakkie laden with onions hove into sight, on which we thumbed a ride back to the Langkloof road. Soon we were given a lift on a big truck carrying processed snoek fish, (Thyrsites atun) all the way to Grahamstown where we had to turn off. Smelling somewhat fishy, we got another lift back to our vehicle in Fort Beaufort where we promptly bought, and guzzled, a six-pack of beer.
It was the only thing we had missed.
Ironically, as I write this, looking out of my window, I can see those self same Kouga Mountains and the stream below my house runs into the Kouga River.