With the recent long weekend, I made plans with my friend Andrew to go on a bit of a camping trip. I was given the challenge of planning the route and finding the best places to camp. Initially I spent about a week looking for locations, everything from the Cedarberg to the Tankwa Karoo. In the end I came up with a route that would take us north to Ceres, then 250km east to Grootvadersbosch. The route would encompass a few locations where I would stand a chance of ticking off a few new bird species, while at the same time just being rather scenic. I came across Klondyke Cherry Farm which is located about 30 kilometers outside of Ceres, next to the Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but accommodation was only R60 pp per night, so I booked us a night.
On the Friday, Andrew arrived at around 10:00 in the morning and after taking a few minutes to pack the car we were on our way. It has been years since I last went through Ceres, or even in that general direction and I wasn’t quite sure on directions other than to try and go through the Hugenot Tunnel, but I was certain my GPS would help us out so I set the route and gave it my trust.
While passing through Paarl, and what was thought to be Paarl but was actually Wellington the GPS told us to turn right into Church Street, and like good little technological slaves, we obeyed. It wasn’t long before things felt a bit off. This definitely wasn’t the route that I have gone in the past. And soon we came to realize that we were on Bain’s Kloof Pass, a drive that while extremely beautiful doesn’t bode well for those who don’t like looking out the passenger window at shear drops.
We stopped for a bit at one of the rest stops along the path and grabbed something to eat and drink and applied the first smothering of sunscreen. For once the weather was definitely on our side and was touching the 30 degree mark, the forecast for the area was even higher. After enjoying the view and also enjoying the emptying of bladders, we continued on our way. Bain’s Kloof Pass only got sketchier once was reached the top of the pass and began our descent into the valley. The road is tiny with shear drops on corners and large rock formations just inches from your car at times. And while it’s an easy enough drive in daylight if taken slowly, there were some apparent regulars who came around at around 80km/h, overtaking 3 cars at a time. Only after driving the pass did I learn about its history and the fact that it was actually build by convict labour in the 19th century over a period of 4 years.
Once the road evened out a bit more we decided to take another break and stopped off at an area of river and stone, just before a small bridge. We got out and looked around the mostly still river, which was in complete contrast to what you’d find in the winter months when melting snowfall ensures a rapidly flowing torrent.
Andrew managed to spot a small Clicking Stream Frog on one of the rocks, and he seemed to stoked to be out in the sun that he didn’t mind me getting all up in his grill with my cheap macro extender and 50mm 1.8. I was hoping for a bit more bird life in the area, but we did manage to see a Greater Double Collared Sunbird (closest to Cape Town I’ve seen one) and a Cape Bunting; no sign of raptors in the skies above unfortunately.
It was then back into the car, after a second dousing of sunscreen. Soon we were out onto our next mountain pass, Michell’s Pass. The road was much wider and comfortable than the R301 by Bain’s Kloof Pass, and it wasn’t long before we were passing through Ceres.
Our route then took us straight along the R46. Our accommodation was located 30 kilometers from Ceres, but I was hoping to get some birding done a bit further north, in a PENTAD that seemed to host a number of interesting species that I had still to see. On my target list for this leg was Namaqua Warbler, Grey Tit, Cape Clapper Lark and Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk. The main target,as a raptor enthusiast was the Pale Chanting Goshawk – or as it would become known, the Pale Chanting Ryan Goslinghawk. Occasionally I’d be shoving my head and phone out the window to grab some mobile shots, as I promised to keep my friend Lauren up to date with how it was going, and maybe make her a bit jealous.
We tried going as far north along the R46 as possible, but soon found ourselves face to face with the R355, a gravel road which leads north towards Sutherland. It is worth noting that our trip was taking place in a 2007 Honda Civic Euro Edition, which happens to be very low to the ground and far from your ideal off-road vehicle. As the R355 stopped us in our tracks, we turned around and took a short drive along the R46 again, but this time along the route that leads to Touws Rivier. Along this road I managed to spot our first bird in an hour, a Karoo Chat sitting on the side of the road. But still no sign of the Pale Chanting Ryan Goslinghawk.
We made another stop at a rest area and looked around, me for birds – Andrew for his lighter. The sun was beating down quite harshly and we decided we should head through to the farm and try sort out our accommodation as it was now nearly 15:00.
It was then back south along the R46 until we came across our turn off to Klondyke Farm. The roads were tar towards the farm, which was quite a surprise, but a pleasant one for sure. There were some lovely views along the drive and the vegetation became a bit more mixed with some Proteas visible along the roadside. Again we stopped for a bit to enjoy the view of the valleys we were passing.
Soon we arrived at Klondyke and it was amazing. We had some White Necked Ravens greeting us on the camping area tables. The camping area is under a small forest of Pines and sports a marvelous view over the farm, with a small dam in front of the camp site, with orchards directly to the left, and a mountainous landscape extending up from the expanse of fields.
Our tents were up within a matter of minutes and despite most of the camping sites having a power socket, we opted for the better view and camped on the furthest site, just outside of the main area. We were starving from all the driving and we grabbed an early dinner as we skottel cooked some vegetarian schnitzels (Andrew being a vegetarian).
After eating we went for a walk along the farm, which one is free to wander when camping there. On our walk we managed to get some good views of a Jackal Buzzard and a brief view of a Black Harrier. Otherwise bird life was still fairly minimal. Andrew had already had some brandy, so I’m going to attribute his passionate desire to juggle pine cones all the way back to the tent to that.
I started to get quite excited an hour before sunset, as there were some very prominent cirrus formations pushing through and I could easily tell that there was going to be an interesting sunset, and with our surroundings it would be a lovely sight.
And a beautiful sunset there was, the blues first turned darker, contrasting with the white cirrus, which then gave way to an orange hue – and by the end the sky was on fire. We walked around the dam as I tried to find the best compositions and also fought off Andrew wanting to throw stones in the water. But despite my protests, his obsession with creating ripples actually helped produce one of my favourite images of the evening.
We then retired to our chairs outside our tents as we got a fire going. The cirrus clouds passed through and in turn gave us some excellent viewing conditions for the stars. I can’t remember ever seeing the Milky Way so clearly and I spent quite some time trying to see how Milky Way photography works. Shooting on a 50D I was quite limited, and I was pushing my noise levels at 1600 ISO, shooting typically just over a minute shutter speed with the lens wide open. While not ideal, I managed to capture some shots that I was definitely happy with.
The rest of the evening revolved around sitting next to the fire talking about things that guys talk about. And before long it was time to call it a night. Not that many birds seen on day one at all, but some great landscapes and just a general good, memorable time.
Part 2 has been posted: Camping Trip – Day 2 & 3 (Grootvadersbosch)