The walk from Ou Kaapse Weg to Peers’ Cave and Tunnel Cave through the thickets of alien vegetation is not one to be taken alone or unadvisedly. Being close to public roads and residences, the area is frequented by vagrants as evidenced by the cardboard and plastic ‘bedding’ in small caves and overhangs, as well as the litter that accompanies such habitation, and it would be a wonderful thing if the rangers of TMNP would patrol and clean in conjunction with law enforcement to maintain the land set aside for public recreation and conservation of the natural fynbos in a safe and pristine condition. That is after all the purpose of the proclamation of the Park and their employment. The aforegoing is not the only reason to be cautious – the path itself is a challenging scramble over the tumbled and sometimes jagged boulders from millenia of weathering of this rocky outcrop that was favoured by the early inhabitants of the Cape. If you are in any way unsteady on your feet, this walk is not for you!
Having said all this, I still consider it a worthwhile walk in a good-sized group, and today we set off in perfect warm winter weather to amble along the first sandy part, accompanied by the joyful singing of sunbirds, a grassbird or two and a variety of other LBJs. It’s too early for the first spring flowers and a lone pale yellow moraea had to suffice for the botanists among us. Once we reached the foot of the rocky ridge, we could admire the fantastical weathered boulders that have become pitted and punctured by the winds and rain that batter this valley from both directions depending on the season. These rocks have the most interesting surfaces of any I have seen on our travels across the Peninsula and are probably the best reason for undertaking the walk. If you like boulders, that is. Some hike for the exercise, but I hike for many reasons: fresh air, panoramic views, great company, fitness, stress relief, bird watching, flowers – the possibilities for learning something new are also endless.
Our Intrepid Leader always takes the trouble to give a short talk on anything of interest where we go, and sometimes needs to blow his whistle to call some of the more unruly members to order – it is a long time since some of them had to listen to Teacher, and a highlight of these talks is waiting for him to pronounce the Afrikaans names, being an Englishman born. The words ‘skildergat’, ‘bokkop’ or ‘Gifkommetjie’ always raise a chuckle. The sad part of today’s talk was that vandals have over the years destroyed the delicate art left on the walls of the cave and replaced it with crude carvings of their names – not much of interest to leave to posterity. I took a photo of something I saw on the roof near the entrance and here it is – perhaps it is one of the original paintings that has escaped.
Although there is evidence of fires being lit in the cave, these are no doubt for warmth rather than cooking, and there was not one piece of litter, a heartening sight. We are told that the sea separated the ridge from the southern Peninsula at the time of occupation and the white sands of the valley with dunes that hug the mountainside are relics of the ancient seabed. The high quality deposits of kaolin throughout the area are further testimony to the early geography, and one can only wonder how long it will be before the sea once again floods through and re-creates the islands which once were. The dense development below us is at future risk despite it being unlikely to happen in any dramatic fashion, more likely an insidious creep as ice caps melt in an ongoing cycle.
Many of the cliffs have climbing rings embedded in them, as they are used as a ‘nursery slope’ for rock-climbers. It is easy to see how the variations in surface can provide many opportunities to practice technical ascents, but I am happy to keep my feet firmly on the ground, albeit rocky, rather than attempt the climb – incredibly strong hands, a head for heights and fearlessness must be the prerequisites! A young man overtook us at a steady jog – trail running training ground, no doubt for its variety of uphill, downhill, sand track, loose rocks and scrambling over a short distance. Interesting to note that this rocky ridge in the middle of the Fish Hoek valley has become an outdoor adventure training ground! Perhaps it will contribute to a clean-up of the alien vegetation, etc. and restore it to its long forgotten beauty.