STRANDLOPER HIKING TRAIL
15 – 19 SEPTEMBER, 2002
The Strandloper Trail is an extremely popular hike – probably 3rd only to the Otter Trail and the Whale Trail. Keith Ashton, our Chairman, had made reservations for up to 12 trailists months in advance. The trail starts at Kei Mouth and follows the rugged coastline for about 59 kms to Gonubie just outside East London. The trail requires 5 days and 4 nights in rustic but comfortable overnight accommodation.
PRE-TRAIL DAY – SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 14TH
Eleven hopefuls left the Midlands over various dates and times in September to assemble at Gonubie Caravan/Chalet Park on Saturday 14th September. Trailists were: -
Anton & Penny Diemont – they had left about 2 weeks earlier for an Orange River canoe safari.
Morris & Noel Harper – leaving PMB on Saturday.
Rod Hart & Johan Marais – also leaving PMB on Saturday.
Keith & Margaret Ashton
Latter party all travelling together in Keith’s Nissan 4 x 4 – leaving Howick at 07h00 and picking up Mary in Hilton and Merle in PMB.
We all arrived at Gonubie (approx. 625 kms) within about 2 hours of each other. Keith had arranged 2 x 6 bed chalets – very comfortable – fridge, stove, TV - the works. Decision to eat out in the evening at Guido’s. Nice ambience – good food and good company. Early’ish night, ready for the experience the following day.
TRAIL - DAY 1 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 15TH
After breakfast the intrepid 11 were taken by Combi (E. Coast shuttle courtesy of Dave Wilson) to Kei Mouth Eco Centre for an ear bending session about the experience by Bryan Church (Trail Manager). An almost early casualty was Merle who had forgotten her hiking boots – Penny however had a pair of takkies, which miraculously were Merle’s size.
Bryan gave us a rapid-fire verbal tour of the hike – involving some anxiety amongst the weaker swimmers and dog paddlers amongst us by giving us some graphic descriptions of the rivers we had to cross (shades of Bloukrans & Otter Trail 2001). However our Chairman, with his normal superb attention to detail had planned for the crossing of the main rivers (Kwelera) at low tide & (Gonubie) a couple of hours after low tide. Which provided some relief for the more nervous amongst us.
This first day was a fairly easy day – so the hike began around 121h00 – into Kei Mouth village – larger than we all imagined and to “Le Thatches” (a self catering set up – looked very comfortable) for an early lunch – bacon & egg butties and then to the Pump House, about 6 kms away. We arrived early – around 14h30. The Pump House was part of a titanium recovery plant with the old Eco Centre being the main processing area and workshop – defunct now for several years. Sand/slurry inclusive of titanium oxide was pumped through a large diameter pipe to the main working area – about 1 km. You can still see remnants of this pipe – now rusted through but concrete lined. Why doesn’t the Eco Centre exploit this history a bit more effectively? The original company contribute towards the running of the Eco Centre and the Strandloper Trail itself.
As it was still early the serious drinkers amongst us – Keith, Margaret, Morris and Peter decided to walk the 2 km or so to our scheduled lunch stop the following day at Morgan’s Bay Hotel. (A unique feature of the Strandloper is the opportunity to have pub lunches on the way at the various hamlets you pass through over the 5 days.)
Morgan’s Bay Bar has an Australian barman who doubles as a general handyman. He heard about South Africa and the E. Cape Coast from a fellow Oz in the USA about 4 years ago and has stayed around ever since.
Back another 2 km to the pump house for an early dinner (2 minute noodles – what else). Johan however going for something more substantial – steak & baked potato. Peter being self-appointed firemaster and pyromaniac. All in sleeping bags by 20h00 – buggered! Only 8,75 kms in total today.
TRAIL- DAY 2 – MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 16TH
Strong cell signal for those wishing to keep in contact with the outside world – Mary in particular! Short walk to Morgan’s Bay arriving in time for tea and biscuits – very civilised! Small party to Top Shop – local general store, with others doing a cliff walk, and then an early bar lunch – equally civilised. On to the 2nd overnight at Double Mouth camp with diversion en route to a very large Natal fig – known as the Banyan Tree – apparently so named by a pioneer trailist with some Far East experience who mistook the tree for a Banyan which is native to tropical India. Accommodation tonight in wooden hut with dormitory type bunks, with use of hot showers and flushing bogs at Caravan Park – luxury!
Double Mouth caravan park an absolute gem – but no one in sight.
Good fire again at night - potato man Johan feasting on cheese/baked spud – watched rather enviously by all the noodle people! Early night again – but only 7 kms today.
TRAIL - DAY 3 – TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17TH
Early start to get to Double Mouth at low tide. The river comes up within 10 minutes. Everybody into river crossing gear – from fashionable cozzies for the ladies to various baggies, shorts and 1950’s swim gear for the boys.
Even at low tide the river was at chest height – all safely across by 08h00. Fairly stiff walking over undulating terrain and beach for about 3½ hours to Haga Haga via Shell Beach – fantastic deposits of all manner of crustaceans. Approaching Marsh Strand – just before Haga Haga – we encountered surprisingly heavy pollution – general rubbish, plastic etc., on a 4 x 4 track – makes you think – particularly after the recent Earth Summit on sustainable development and pollution.
Arrival at Haga Haga at 11h30 – with another great pub lunch. Haga Haga hotel looks a real bargain at R175 dinner, bed & breakfast per person (rates up to end Nov. 02).
Quite heavy going after lunch for about 7 – 8 kms over rocky beaches and boulders. Arrival at Cape Henderson overnight hut at around 16h30. All of us quite tired with 15,5 kms under our belts today.
Morris took quite a heavy fall earlier on – possibly too much of a liquid lunch? – But no serious bruising. During dinner preparations – still noodles – Anton narrowly escaped severe scalding – one of the boiling pans slipped off the gas burner and fell onto his foot. With great presence of mind and skill Anton deftly removed his sock and hurled it just past Margaret’s ear – no serious burns – Keith’s seemingly endless supply of Drambuie seemed to calm Anton down after the incident!
No fires allowed tonight so Peter in a bit of a sulk. However Mary’s proposal for moon-downers on the beach was well received, and an imaginative alternative. Various brews sampled – Rod’s sherry (dry, semi-sweet, amontillado), Mary’s OBS? Keith’s Drambuie – now becoming the drink of the legend – and Johan’s red wine – now on it’s last legs – today was a very good year!
All in bed again fairly early by 21h00. 15,5 Kms today.
TRAIL - DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18TH
First river to cross today coming up within first 300m. This was a wader only. Then approx. 10 kms of flat sandy beach to Cintsa West. Easy walking but very warm.
We came across a beach with flat rock formation and lava type air bubbles – evidence surely of volcanic activity aeons ago. Again it would be nice to see more information about the geology of the trail on the promotional literature.
“Pub & Grub” best eating venue so far with a nice elevated deck looking out to sea. Steve, as owner manager, was very helpful and offered to pick us up in the evening after a unanimous decision that noodles were not an option for dinner this evening.
Good pub lunch and then to the last overnight stop in a settler cottage about 3 kms on from Cintsa. Showers available again and fires allowed so preparations made for a final conflagration after dinner.
Some of the party decided to walk back to Cintsa – most of us waited for Steve to turn up in his bakkie and then back to the hotel. Good meal and good banter – particularly over the staff’s unsuccessful attempts to make Irish coffee. Penny in some danger of being assaulted by the waitress after offering advice on how to do it! Back to the cottage - again kind favour of Steve – with some intrepid souls electing to walk back in the moonlight, and then final fireside stories including Margaret’s Albert and t’Lion rendition.
Late night tonight – most only in bed by 23h00!
TRAIL - DAY 5 – THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 19TH
Early start by 06h30 to get to the Kwelera River – just on low tide. This required a swim Mary, being the Midmar Mile Queen, went first – all safely across and then on to Gonubie. We came across a curious display of sandcastles – about 12 in all – several very imaginative, almost Japanese like. Children? Some beach based oriental sect?
On to Gonubie – eventually in sight at 10h30 but never seeming to get closer. Nobody mentioned boulder beach (but probably included in Keith’s notes). This was a 1km torture of pebbles and rocks (shades of the Fish River Canyon) and then a creek to be navigated before the river crossing.
We arrived about 2 hours after low tide with a swift incoming flow of water. Mary again taking the lead with an indication of a not too easy swim. Peter deciding to enter the water in his old takkies couldn’t seem to kick them off – subsequently ending up about 200 yards upstream.
All safely across and then the chalets again. Bliss – hot showers.
As it was only early afternoon small party walking into town, Rod, Peter, Merle, Mary, to review an alternative restaurant – Knights – not considered any better than Guido’s but we did learn how to make Brain Manglers and Depth Charges.
All electing therefore to eat at Guido’s again for the final dinner. Back to the chalets and good stories at the “senior hut”. All of us looking forward to a proper bed again.
POST – TRAIL DAY – SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20TH
Anton & Penny leaving early, followed by Noel & Morris, Potato Man and Rod (all of us looking forward to his selection of photos as the official Trail Photographer) and then Keith, Margaret, Peter, Merle and Mary. Long 8-hour drive home with brunch at Shell Ultra City in Umtata, meeting up with Johan and Rod.
All back in PMB/Hilton/Howick late afternoon.
This was a hike/trail with a difference. The opportunity of having pub lunches and genuine wilderness areas is unusual – but very desirable! Makes for good socialising.
As a group we all interacted well with everyone displaying individual skills and contributing to a very enjoyable and successful trail. It’s worth mentioning such talents viz.,
§ Keith – for his always dependable and very detailed trail planning – to arrive at the river exactly at low tide is impressive. Also for his around the fire Friday night stories.
§ Margaret – for her steady walking pace which helped link the express artists and the slower members of the party. Also her soliloquies.
§ Noel – for her determination and imperturbability. She never seemed fazed about any obstacle, river, rocks etc.
§ Morris – for his good humour in all things.
§ Johan – for his imaginative evening dishes and dry wit.
§ Rod – for providing some stimulating on-trail discussions about life in general and his impromptu photography.
§ Merle – for her ability to improvise. To arrive without boots must have been daunting but she never complained. Also for her coral head-dress, or rather backpack adornment. Her collection could be seen for miles around.
§ Mary – for braving the waters first and her beach combing. She must have carried at least 3 kgs of shells and rocks.
§ Penny – for her cheerful disposition and latent skills in Irish coffee making?
§ Anton – for his acrobatic skills – remember the sock incident – and round the fire story contributions.
§ Finally Peter – for his fire making – Is this really all he came for! And for an entertaining display of synchronised swimming!
Can’t wait for the Whale Trail in 2003.