‘Why do you hike?” asked a fellow hiker. I had to think for a moment. What better way to explore South Africa’s diverse locations on foot?
Moreover, I like walking – it’s good for the soul. I like travelling. I like discovering new places. And that’s exactly what you do on the Heuningland Karoo Hike; you experience the Karoo in all its raw, natural, unpretentious glory.
Besides, Heuningland is slackpacking at its best. Not having to carry a heavy backpack appealed to me. Our hosts made sure our clothes, tent and bedding were transported each day to the next overnight point, leaving us to enjoy the Karoo with only carrying our water and snacks.
Best of all, meals were provided but we pitched our own tents. Some were brave enough to sleep under the stars, enjoying the sense of freedom that comes with it.
The hike was extremely well organised. The organisers, Douw and Liezl Vlok, did everything to take care of each hiker and kept in contact until we were safely home.
Picture: Anne Brönn
Hiking allows one to live “in the moment”. There are no distractions, no crises, no deadlines, no demands and best of all, no cellphone reception; just miles of stretching road to traverse, lots of time to enjoy the scenes, to connect with your inner self.
There is no pressure to reach camp first; the only goal is to enjoy the road less travelled.
Yes, it is challenging, pushing the boundaries of personal comfort to the limit. Think: pitching your own tent, sleeping on nothing more than a yoga mat, no makeup, two litres of hot water in an empty ice cream container to “shower” in, bush toilets … but in the process I realised just how little one actually needs to survive – it’s liberating; a balm for the soul.
The Karoo is breathtakingly beautiful. Perhaps it’s her majesty, the mountains that change colour throughout the day, the ravines, the dry river beds, the crystal clear water that is pumped from deep inside the earth – who knows?
All I know is she was my inspiration to get up each morning, my motivation to complete the hike.
Even though this is not a difficult route technically, the challenge lies in the long distances covered each day. We covered 103km over four days, walking more than 20km a day.
Add to this the sun and wind, and you’ll appreciate you have to be walking fit. Blisters, cuts, aching feet and sunburn took its toll. But it’s all worth it, leaving one with a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
We arrived at Mwena campsite and met fellow hikers around a campfire. I pitched my tent under some thorn trees in a river bed, and after a scrumptious meal, went to bed with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation – would I make it?
Today we covered 27km, walking on a bigger gravel road or two trail “jeep tracks”. This is a beautiful stretch of Karoo land dotted with sheep lazily grazing, the sound of the bells around their necks lending an otherworldly charm.
We walked through the breathtakingly beautiful Oukloof pass for the last 2km of this trek and cooled our hot feet in a refreshing mountain pool before heading towards camp.
Just as well I decided to bring my hiking boots, which are more spacious than my trail runners, as this morning I couldn’t get the trail runners on … swollen feet. It happens to me when I travel, something I had not taken into account.
Anyway, the hiking boots proved to be a life saver. Today we walked across the wide open plains of the Great Karoo. I’ll call this the “silent day”. The initial excitement slightly tempered, but not completely evaporated; we became silent, introspective, almost meditative as the Karoo worked her magic on us.
The shortest route and, to me, the most beautiful of the hike – although a close tie with the last day – with red koppies and ravines revealing deep river reaches, and windmills lazily pumping water.
Another beautiful stretch taking us next to the border of the Karoo National Park and a short stretch across actual veld. At one point, we took a detour of about 600m downhill to take photographs of a Karoo corbel house in beehive style, typical of the Karoo.
Whether our paths will cross again in future remains to be seen, but for a short while, strangers become friends, sharing and caring for one another. As we left our footprints in the Karoo, the Karoo left her imprints on our hearts.
Tip: I was the only hiker from Gauteng and interrupted my journey in Colesberg both ways. However, the 320km from Beaufort West to Colesberg was a long stretch after the 27km hike of the last day.
It would have been wiser to overnight in Beaufort West or the Karoo National park before embarking on the long trek home.
Where: From the N1, approximately 10 km outside Beaufort West (towards Cape Town), you turn onto a dirt road that leads to Fraserburg via the Oukloof road. Rietfontein, the farm where the hike begins, lies about 65km further along this road.
It’s an easy road to drive (more gravel than stone), and appropriate for most type of vehicles, although when it rains, the river crossings might be a challenge for ordinary sedans.
Accommodation: Own tent and bedding.
Catering: 3 meals a day, bring your own snacks for along the way. Drinking water is available at every overnight stop and along the way.
Ablutions: A bucket (2 litres) of hot water every evening to shower in; bush toilets.
Contact: info@heuningland. com
For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.